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The benefits of microlearning: Learn big, study small

November 10, 2021 - 22 min read

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What is microlearning?

4 principles of microlearning

The advantages

The disadvantages

4 examples of microlearning

4 best practices for microlearning

Enhance your training with microlearning

Fun fact: the average human attention span is now shorter than a goldfish's. A recent study found that the average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000 to eight seconds today.

What hasn’t changed is the importance of learning in the workplace. A company culture of learning can make an organization more competitive, innovative, and adaptable.

But how can employees absorb information with such short attention spans?

For some, the solution is microlearning.

Microlearning is an organizational training method that delivers short bursts of on-demand content for learners to study at their convenience. By presenting information in bite-sized chunks, learners can retain information better.

Microlearning alone won't create a learning culture (and if your attention span truly is shorter than 8 seconds, you might want to work on your focus). But it can be an effective way to make sure people have the latest information they need and help people continuously up their game.

Let’s look at some microlearning examples and the many benefits of microlearning.

 

What is microlearning?

Microlearning is an educational and engaging way to learn new skills and information. All microlearning training shares the same core characteristics. Just enough information, at just the right time. In microlearning, brief is better.

Microlearning delivers short and memorable nuggets of content that learners can peruse at their leisure. The content should pack a punch without taking up hours of learners’ time. It is approachable and requires little investment from the learner.

The content can take a variety of forms. Examples include standard text, images, videos, and audio to interactive media like quizzes, tests, and games.

Regardless of the platform, the key to this learning strategy is that modules always be short.

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It’s less time-consuming, easier, and more cost-effective to produce. Plus, it’s widely considered more engaging and interesting than traditional eLearning.

The concept has a long history spanning over a few decades. But it is only really since the rise of the smartphone era that microlearning has begun to enjoy its heyday.

Microlearning isn’t the optimal solution for every training requirement. But it is very effective when it comes to commercial and corporate training strategies

Some examples of microlearning include learning new languages, learning how to code, or expanding your vocabulary by learning a new word each day.

 

4 principles of microlearning

Like any useful learning method, microlearning is based on a few fundamental principles. These set the foundation for how to structure your microlearning approach.

1. Microlearning is fast and short

The whole concept of microlearning centers around courses that are short in length and easy to access. Learners can complete a course with dozens of bite-sized units within an hour or two.

This allows learners to manage their time efficiently while getting all the information they need.

This fast pace enables learners to respond quickly to changing business goals. It also enables course designers to adapt to new training demands as the focus and needs of a business change over time.

2. It focuses on one learning objective or outcome

Unlike complex courses, microlearning sessions have a single important takeaway. This takeaway is always made obvious to learners. Doing this helps learners become aware of their personal learning pathway.

Microlearning courses should always have a high point or apex. This should stick with learners long after they have completed their courses.

Focusing on a single learning outcome ensures that learners can learn as much as possible about a specific subject. This prevents them from becoming confused or distracted by other related concepts.

3. It uses different types of media

Microlearning courses use different media forms, which makes learning more engaging. They present concepts and information in interesting, relevant, and memorable ways.

Media types include:

  • Images
  • Infographics
  • Text
  • Videos (sometimes interactive)
  • Games

All of these media help to make the learning experience more fun. Especially when compared to the studious nature of traditional training.

4. It is easily accessible and mobile-friendly

Microlearning platforms are all digital. This makes the courses easy to access online. Even if learners are training remotely or on the move, they can study from their smartphones and tablets.

These courses can cover any subject that regular eLearning courses can. Only they do so in bite-sized ways that can be accessed anywhere and at any time.

man-in-cafe-using-mobile-phone-for-microlearning

The portable nature of mobile learning also gives learners more freedom to study at their own pace and in their own time. In turn, this improves course adherence and reduces stress.

 

9 advantages and disadvantages of microlearning

What are the pros and cons of the microlearning strategy? Find out below.

 

The advantages

First, let’s look at some of the advantages of microlearning.

1. Improves on-the-job training

Microlearning courses improve on-the-job training by delivering just the information a learner needs, right when (and where) they need it. A classic example is the tutorial in the latest software tool you've installed. You get stuck, click on help, and a 60-second video walks you through how to address your problem.

By reducing the lag and friction between running into an issue and finding an answer, microlearning can encourage innovative and collaborative thinking among learners. The more diverse the courses and delivery methods, the more pronounced these effects will be.

Different people within an organization will consume different lessons. Each learner will retain information that they can later share with their peers at work.

This sharing of information promotes employee development and means one person’s microlearning course becomes someone else’s social learning on-the-job. Social learning is learning through observing and imitating other people's behaviors. Through social learning, employees can learn from each other in ways that can benefit the wider organization.

2. Increases engagement

The different types of media used in microlearning attract and hold the learner's attention. This helps learners stay engaged for longer.

This multimedia approach also comes in small, manageable chunks. This further helps employees complete each module without feeling overwhelmed or burned out.

A real-life example of this is the microlearning module created by EdApp for Pandora. The module helped increase completion rates from 15% to nearly 90% while also engaging employees with the content.

Small chunks of exciting content also help learners stay focused on one topic at a time. All without becoming distracted or bored by unnecessary repetition.

3. Promotes peer-to-peer learning

Information is generally much easier to share with other people when it is presented in an online format. Because of this, microlearning can promote peer-to-peer learning. It allows employees to share their courses and new information they have learned with their colleagues.

This collaboration can deepen all parties’ understandings of the content. It also promotes self-managed teams that support each other. These connections in the workplace further boost employee morale and retention rates.

4. Allows learners to consume content quickly and easily

Microlearning students aren’t bound to traditional corporate boardroom settings. They can engage with course content anywhere and at any time they like, at their own pace.

Modules on different platforms make it even easier for learners to consume information. Learners can focus on the lessons they believe are most applicable to them at this point in their careers.

This ease of access and ability for self-direction leads to impressive returns and great information retention.

5. Improves knowledge retention

Microlearning reinforces its source material by giving learners enough time to absorb and understand new knowledge.

Research has shown that learning that is spaced out over time leads to improved retention of information. A relaxed brain is better able to retain and recall information that it has learned.

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The disadvantages

The upside of microlearning is that it requires little investment from the learner. That can be its downside as well.

Now, let’s look at a few disadvantages of microlearning.

1. Difficult to manage so much content

Microlearning is fragmented into smaller, singular topics. This poses the risk that some employees will not gain the depth of understanding needed. On top of this, consuming too many topics will make it difficult for learners to manage them all.

2. Can limit accessibility to information

Many microlearning courses rely on technology. If employees don’t have access to the right tools, this limits their access to information.

Learners may also not have access to extra information or human support to help them clarify confusing concepts. They may get stuck on a topic, which could hinder the learning process.

3. Not suitable for complex tasks or skills

Microlearning is not a one-size-fits-all type of learning. Complicated subjects are often too complex and expansive for microlearning courses. Because it is low-investment from the learner, they don't generally become immersed in the content and may lose focus even for a short piece. 

This type of learning is better used for light subjects and highly focused topics, such as a "how to" skill.

4. Can become fragmented

Because content is broken up into smaller chunks, there is the risk of fragmented learning.

two-colleagues-studying-together-microlearning

Without proper structure, learners may have problems following along and seeing how topics are connected.

Some learners might struggle to see the bigger picture and how each micro-course fits into it. This can lead to confusion and lack of work motivation.

 

4 examples of microlearning

Let’s look at some microlearning examples to see how this training method is used.

1. Instructional videos on YouTube

Training videos can be uploaded to video streaming platforms for training purposes. The best example is YouTube. YouTube is free to use, and learners can access the videos at any time. They can even download them for offline use if necessary.

They can also interact with their peers and tutors in the comment sections of each short video. This can help clarify any concepts that need refining.

2. Microlearning apps

Microlearning apps may seem like a new concept. But you have likely encountered a few of the more popular ones like Duolingo and Word of the Day.

These apps use gamification to break training concepts down into fun learning sessions. In these sessions, learners can compete with each other and top leaderboards. All while learning new skills and information quickly and efficiently.

Learners can download apps onto their devices for easy, anytime access.

3. Social media

A social media page is an excellent way to provide microlearning training to your staff. You can post a wide range of content formats to social media. This includes text, images, and videos to engage your audience and teach them a wide range of skills.

They can also interact with their peers and training managers. Real-time comment sections and message inboxes can be used for any questions or misunderstandings.

4. Infographics

An infographic is a simple visual chart. This microlearning example provides information in a way that makes it easy to remember and recall when it is needed.

infographic-on-cellphone-microlearning

These visual aids can be downloaded, shared, and even printed to reinforce educational messages. This ensures that learners have grasped core concepts adequately.

They can also be posted on social media or collaborative work boards to drive the message home.

 

4 best practices for microlearning

Here are some of the best practices for designing microlearning modules to ensure their success.

1. Personalize microlearning programs

The most effective microlearning courses are personalized based on learners’:

  • Levels of competency
  • Previous courses and training taken
  • Assessment scores
  • Careers

Personalized content is more likely to engage learners for longer. This leads to improved course adherence and higher chances of completion.

2. Use technology to your advantage

Using technology to design your microlearning courses will make them interesting and relevant. From video-based learning to virtual reality, the possibilities are endless.

In addition to different types of modern media, you can include online assessments. These let learners assess their progress and identify areas that need development.

3. Identify and fill skills gaps

Most microlearning platforms have tools that you can use to assess key metrics. For example, how many employees completed a course and how they feel about course content in general.

You can use the results of their online self-assessments to identify skills gaps. Then, you can develop new microlearning courses to fill these gaps. Doing so ensures that your workforce is constantly upskilling themselves. This helps them learn the skills they need to achieve their professional goals.

4. Let learners control their learning

One of the biggest perks of microlearning is that it can be self-directed. Learners can control the flow of information. From the subject matter to the speed of the course, they get to decide. This puts them in the driver's seat and empowers your team.

colleagues-learning-together-microlearning

Ensure they also have this control in the course. For example, let them choose which skills they would like to work on. Give them the tools they need to complete the microlearning course, be it an iPad or a quiet space to focus.

Remember to allow your employees to complete the courses at their own pace. But feel free to add a general time frame for finishing to encourage them to complete each module.

 

Enhance your training with microlearning

There's a reason why microlearning is such a popular method for workplace learning today. It offers concepts in an engaging, relevant, and effective way.

This training method offers many benefits to both employees and organizations. Learning new skills allows employees to be even more successful in their current roles. It also allows them to advance into a new role and develop their career.

In a fast-changing digital world, it's important for employees to always be learning through experience. It doesn't just make them better at their job. It also helps their personal development.

Microlearning is just one tool to upskill your employees. Contact BetterUp for a demo on other ways you can drive professional and personal growth.

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Published November 10, 2021

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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