Why is microlearning relevant today?
It is significant to note that, although the ‘hype-cycle’ may have died down somewhat, the use of microlearning is on the rise. A survey by Rapid Learning Institute, claims 8/10 L&D professionals prefer microlearning because their users favour it more than traditional learning. This preference has grown to a steady rise in the number of large corporate L&D departments that are providing microlearning.
elearningindustry.com provides the following list of the top microlearning trends, resulting from broader adoption:
• More infographics (see some of our examples) and the rise of interactive infographics;
• Interactive PDFs;
• Animation; and
• Mobile apps.
Until recently, the gravitation towards microlearning was driven primarily by the trend of developing informal and community-produced content as a means of supplementing formal learning activities. This, in turn, was accelerated by the rapid development of new technologies and delivery platforms that simply were not available 10 years ago.
Where are we now?
Fast-forward to today, and the second wave of microlearning is being driven by the transformative changes in the way businesses operate, as a result of the technological evolution that was happening in the initial wave. Pete Radice, a Learning Specialist at Merck states:
“here at Merck the current focus is on meeting the Learners needs in the flow of work and on the go. The design of what we now call “Journeys” entail focusing on what is required to enhance performance. This will, and does, include micro-learning, as we recognize that 3-4 minutes to consume content is the current trend.”
Some common benefits organisations gain from microlearning include:
• much less costly and time-consuming to produce than traditional eLearning;
• more closely-aligned with how human memory works;
• removes the likelihood of boredom (and extensively engagement) by minimising learner time commitment;
• better suited for accessing and using on-demand content, without having to sort through a monolithic course to find the needed bits;
• introduces business efficiencies by achieving maximum benefits via minimal input;
• better aligned to the attention span of those entering the workforce; and
• easier to ‘mix-and-match’ microlearning offerings to create highly-tailored and personalised content for learners.
What to do with legacy content
Wait a minute, what about all the legacy content we have been building for the last 20 years?
There is a lot of ongoing debate when it comes to the value and utility of converting legacy content into microlearning. This is due largely to the potential amount of man-hours, and money required, to adequately address the task. The reality is that most organisations have spent millions of pounds and hundreds of man-years in building up their current catalogue of eLearning. The thought of all of that content becoming obsolete or, perhaps even more daunting, having to be all reworked and shredded into a million new pieces, may seem a bridge too far.
Simply shredding your existing learning content into individual slides, pages, screens, or other chunks, will likely not produce learning content that will be valuable, or perhaps even relevant, to a learner. This is primarily due to the fact that these “chunks”, while potentially very useful to content developers, simply may not have the context needed to provide a meaningful learning experience – with a few notable exceptions, such as standalone videos and infographics.
If you have decided to pursue the idea of reducing some of your legacy eLearning into microlearning, the basic considerations are:
1.) Which part of the content library? All of it? Just the product knowledge content? Etc.; and
2.) How far back do you go in the conversion process, e.g., how many years?
Given that there are organisations that are still storing and sometimes offering eLearning content that was built almost 20 years ago, this can be a very important decision in terms of the workload associated with the conversion task.
Although every organisation’s legacy content is highly unique, below are some best practices to consider once you have selected the subset of your eLearning catalogue to convert:
• align to a larger taxonomy or larger construct, such as a competency model or industry standard taxonomical reference;
• ensure that the piece both makes sense on its own and logically fits within a superordinate construct;
• keep the expected delivery time to 3-4 minutes at most; and
• do not spend a lot of time trying to reduce a monolithic learning offering into bite-sized chunks if the rationale is not imminently obvious.
Tips for designing microlearning
Given that the overwhelming majority of learning practitioners have not received any formal training or support on how to design content for microlearning delivery, it is very important that your learning organisation provides guidelines tailored to their learner’s needs, and the type of knowledge being addressed by the microlearning content. An example of such a set is provided below:
• cover no more than one learning objective or one competency;
• focus on engagement more than you have in past, traditional, eLearning offerings;
• keep it lean by focusing on the ‘how-to’, as opposed to the background information;
• group relevant and similar content together, to help maximise retention;
• contextualise the content as much as possible on how the learner will need to apply it;
• space the learning out, so that the learner has time to digest the prior learning before moving onto the next microlearning cognate;
• focus on ‘usability’, so that the learner can focus on the content and not on how to use it; and
• think of ways to personalise the content as much as possible by role, region, common client profile, etc.
What do I do to get started?
The first step in any type of new technology or approach has to be determining the suitability of this technology or approach in terms of your organisation’s unique set of needs and requirements.
Consider addressing the three questions below before moving forward with a microlearning strategy.
1. Is there truly an existing business problem or learning needs problem?
2. Are there budgetary resources and human resources realistically available to take on the new or additional work?
3. If you answered affirmatively to 1 and 2, then are there aspects of microlearning that are uniquely qualified to solve the business problem or learning problem in a manner that a traditional learning or performance intervention could not?
Tailoring to your organisational needs
Regardless of the outcomes of this exercise, you will most certainly have a better assessment of the state of your current eLearning catalogue and a solid position on whether or not microlearning makes sense in your learning organisation.
Despite the hype and the rise in adoption, it is vital to keep in mind that microlearning is simply one of many approaches in a well-balanced L&D strategy. As Pete Radice advises:
“But we feel it’s more important to focus on meeting the need and ensuring it is the correct fit in a variety of assets & modalities. We are aware that attention spans have become increasing shorter, but the learner will be engaged a bit longer than usual if the content is timely, relevant, from a trusted source or a leading expert on the subject matter”.
The bottom line is to apply a suitability approach to all modalities of eLearning that are tailored to your users and their needs.
(A version of this article first appeared in the Learning Technologies E-magazine in February, 2019, see: