Making A Big Impact With Microlearning

Is Microlearning The Right Solution For Stakeholders?
Rene Ouderling/
Summary: Microlearning is a cognitive-based strategy to present discrete and focused subject matter that can stand alone from other topics because it makes sense in the environment or context it is delivered.

Is Microlearning The Correct Solution?

As an L&D professional, you may have stakeholders who ask you to create a microlearning solution for their department without knowing why. Microlearning can be an impactful strategy for a learner, especially if provided at the right time and place. Microlearning can be used to improve comprehension, memory, and application of knowledge and skills.

Generally, microlearning consists of five-minute to 10-minute long chunks of focused content, often delivered in digital format. Chunking is a term coined by George Armitage Miller in 1956. In brief, chunking is the cognitive process of dividing large pieces of information into smaller units that are easier to keep in short-term memory. This is the scientific basis for breaking large amounts of content down into smaller instructional pieces.

But how do you know if microlearning is the correct solution for your stakeholders?

Know The Purpose For The Learning

First, you need to understand why the stakeholder wants to use microlearning. What is the problem they are trying to address? Microlearning can be an excellent solution for certain types of training. Some examples include:

  • Refresher training for job skills that are performed infrequently
  • Just-In-Time training for new job skills that arise in an agile work environment or to keep employees updated with changes to procedures or requirements
  • Spaced training to improve long-term memory for critical skills that are too urgent for Just-In-Time training
  • Professional development that helps employees explore new topics and keep them engaged in growth (this can be especially helpful for retention of high performers)
  • Dual-use training and marketing tools geared to help inform both sales staff and potential customers about the benefits of a company’s services or products

Not all circumstances are appropriate for microlearning, and it’s important to evaluate the problem to be solved and the purpose of the training. For instance, you might need instructor-led (ILT) demonstrations or Virtual Reality (VR) practice for a dangerous or complex task instead of self-guided microlearning.

Chunk Content That Is Sufficient And Necessary

Microlearning is a cognitive-based strategy to present discrete and focused subject matter that can stand alone from other topics because it makes sense in the environment or context it is delivered. This doesn’t mean that the microlearning isn’t part of a larger solution with other microlearning modules or a blended learning [1] solution. The information in the microlearning, however, should be clearly understood as a defined chunk.

Microlearning is not a summary of an eight-hour ILT course or a single lesson within a broader course where each lesson depends upon completion of the other lessons. As with microlearning, lessons might also be smaller cognitive chunks, but microlearning modules should have less immediate dependence on other modules. The choice between microlearning and multi-lesson courses, of course, depends on the purpose of the training and the nature of the content.

The trick for L&D professionals is to figure out how much content represents a chunk to the learner. Ask:

  • Is the content in the chunk sufficient to cover everything that’s needed for the defined knowledge or skill? If not, what is missing? This content might not be appropriate for microlearning if you need a lot more.
  • Is everything in the chunk necessary to achieve the discrete learning objective for the module? If not, get rid of the excess. The goal in microlearning is to keep the content lean and focused.

Consider The Effect Of Learner Expertise On Chunk Size

Do a careful learner analysis to define the personas of the intended learners. This is especially important when deciding on the necessity and sufficiency of content in your chunks. For example, the needs of new learners and experts are different. As employees gain experience, they can incorporate new information that increases the size of chunks they can handle.

For example, a new driver must focus on many details such as steering, braking, speed, and signage as separate chunks at first. Training a new driver to merge and change lanes on a highway might be cognitive overload. An experienced driver, however, has automated and coordinated the simpler tasks so that their working memory can focus on the oncoming traffic of a highway.

Deliver Microlearning In A Way That Connects It Directly To The Job

Adult learners prefer self-directed training that is directly applicable to their job. Microlearning is great for supporting specific job-related skills. One solution is to use mobile devices. Mobile learning can provide training directly within the context of the job when it’s needed. Mobile devices can even incorporate Augmented Reality (AR) in a way that ties the training to the relevant location. Or perhaps your employees are frequently driving and can benefit from audio-based microlearning modules to learn new sales tips, product information, or other relevant skills and support.

Microlearning is clearly more than creating shorter lessons. Knowing the purpose, chunks, learners, and delivery context are necessary to support your decision to use it and, if so, customize microlearning for your stakeholders. When done well, this small solution can create a big impact for your employees and make a big impression on your stakeholders.