What is microlearning? Plus tips

Pamela S. Hogle
Smiling woman with short hair, wearing glasses.
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When people have a question or don’t know how to do something, what do they do? Whip out a smartphone and look for information. What they don’t do is sign up for a 1-hour seminar. 

Microlearning brings corporate eLearning into the modern paradigm. Microlearning describes eLearning content that is:

  • Narrowly focused
  • Short
  • Available on demand
  • Mobile-first or mobile-friendly

It must answer a question, meet an immediate need, or help the learner solve a problem. 

In short, microlearning is useful: It fits with learners’ needs for specific information, of course. Equally important, it fits with how modern learners live, work, shop — and find information in each of those roles.

Microlearning is more than short videos

While microlearning is small, there’s no agreed-upon length for a micro-lesson. Expert practitioners tend to agree that it is as long as it needs to be to solve a very specific problem — and no longer.

Lots of microlearning is in video format, but it doesn’t have to be. A micro-lesson can be a fact sheet or an infographic; it can be a podcast or an interactive video or a branching mini-scenario created in an eLearning authoring tool (or in PowerPoint). A chatbot that answers questions or quizzes a learner on something she learned earlier could also be a form of microlearning. 

Microlearning can take any format the designer can imagine!  Many microlearning platforms permit this wide variety of content options.

Microlearning fits into the workflow

Image depicts a series of nails hammered into a board with a pieces of string connecting each of them randomly. - Neovation Learning Solutions

Smartphones have turned many of us into constant learners. Faced with a question, a problem, a forgotten bit of trivia, today’s digital consumers search for a solution — in the moment, using their phones or tablets.

At work, those consumers behave the same way: When they have a question or need to know how to do something, they don’t want to sign up for an hour-long eLearning course offered next February; they want an answer, now!

Microlearning meets modern employee-learners where they are – known as workflow learning. It delivers focused, easy-to-find answers and information to them at the moment they need it. It’s short enough that it doesn’t interrupt their workflow, yet complete enough to solve their problem.

Keep it simple

In creating microlearning, focus on the content — not on gimmicks and graphics. Rather than pour energy and resources into visual design, focus on creating questions that make learners think through a scenario or recall information they’ve learned. And build in a mechanism for learners to test their knowledge and provide them with feedback on incorrect responses.

Microlearning can be gamified — offering points or levels, awarding stars or badges or mastery levels — but that should only be done if the game fits the content. If, say, you’re creating microlearning to remind a manager of how to fill out a form, an infographic with an annotated version of the form might make more sense.

Smiling woman with short hair, wearing glasses.
Pamela S. Hogle

An experienced writer, editor, tech writer, and blogger, Pam helps you make sense of learning science and eLearning technology. She provides information you can use to drive improvements in your training effectiveness and ROI.

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