What is Microlearning and why Should you Care About it? Image

Seemingly ever-increasing in popularity as the years go by, microlearning is essentially a way of packaging and delivering learning content (particularly work-based learning) into short, bite-sized chunks that are easily digestible and that address very specific, focused learning outcomes.

The thinking behind microlearning might seem pretty self-explanatory: it offers quick, compact answers to questions employees need to know right now in order to continue to work or - in a compliance setting, for example - to continue to work safely.

Whilst many microlearning courses are under five minutes in length, there is no set length considered 'ideal' for microlearning interventions. Rather there's the wonderfully vague but nonetheless general consensus that microlearning itself be no longer than it needs to be (in order to cover its learning objective, that is).

In other words, we can think of microlearning as it concerns itself with content learners 'need to know' - not what might be 'interesting' or 'nice' to know.

Whenever we employ microlearning, then, it's important to ensure that the learning point in question can and should be addressed via microlearning in order to achieve optimum results. Content should never be 'squashed' into microlearning modules if it is too nuanced or complex for the methodology, or if more time is necessitated to accomplish the objective effectively.

Microlearning and modern life

There's a lot of buzz online about the use of microlearning as it responds to shortening attention-spans brought about by the use of social media and other digital channels promoting instant gratification. The idea being that society can no longer handle the subject-heavy nature of traditional teaching and must be spoon-fed smaller, more palatable, pieces of information in order to pay attention.

Whilst there is some truth to this (we have indeed become more accustomed to receiving digital information via short snippets or 'updates' alongside the evolution of the internet, smartphones, news alerts, etc.), it isn't fair to view microlearning as a way of pandering to modern culture's so-called reliance on ease, rapidity, and over-consumption.

Rather, the advent of microlearning – and shorter attention spans in general – can perhaps be more fully explained by the sheer amount of information available and conferred to individuals – including in the workplace.

Take workplace mandatory training alone as an example, which might be made up of any number of topics, including (but not limited to) data protection, manual handling, and equality and diversity, fire safety, display screen equipment use, and workplace code of conduct – not to mention any compulsory industry-specific training that must be undertaken by individuals in different professions.

So, it makes sense to imagine that the more data there is available to consume, the less attention time people have to offer different instances of information. Indeed, according to Forbes, the number one reason employees stop learning is because they simply don't have the time. Modern workers are information-wealthy and attention-poor, and this creates a need to use and allocate learning time more effectively.

By way of summarising what microlearning is, here's what it definitely is not:

  • A way of dumbing-down workplace learning

  • Longer-form learning content that's simply 'chopped up'

  • Any learning content that happens to be short

  • Tedious, superfluous, or unnecessary

Benefits of Microlearning

So, we know that microlearning is a viable way to save employee time and maximise the time we do have to spend on training activities, but what other benefits and ROI are on offer for businesses considering investing in microlearning?

Let's take a look:

Microlearning is engaging

We know that, in order to be effective, learning content must be engaging – and here's where microlearning really comes into its own. The brevity of microlearning content helps prevent cognitive overload, allowing key takeaways to be absorbed without getting lost beneath superfluous information and contextual clutter which can overburden working memory and result in learner disengagement.

Instead, microlearning is incredibly learner-centric; it gives learners time to pause for thought and process information before moving onto the next key learning message. This facilitates the process of transferring knowledge into long-term memory.

Additionally, as a methodology born into and enabled by technological advancement, microlearning tends to be intensely media-rich, meaning it makes use of different media types and instructional design techniques, including video, animation, audio, and gamification. Because these design techniques are more familiar and pleasing to the learner, it's less likely users will lose interest quickly, which makes the entire learning process a lot more intriguing and engaging.

Read more about ways to boost your compliance training here.

Microlearning is flexible

Microlearning is a flexible tool that can easily transition between different devices such as smartphones, PCs, laptops, and tablets, enabling a seamless learning experience regardless of where users are (or prefer to be) when they find time to brush up their knowledge. This technological coherence also means users can take responsibility for their own learning journeys, checking off courses assigned to them (or self-determining useful ones) as and when it suits them.

Furthermore, microlearning is an extremely effective methodology for 'learning in the flow of work', a concept that proposes learning shouldn't be separate to the daily work of employees, but, instead, ought to become a part of it.

Learning in the flow of work recognises the need for learning to fit around and align itself to the real way people live and work today. Rather than thinking of learning objectives as 'destinations' for employees to reach, then, the concept dictates that learning should come to us instead, delivered by intelligent learning platforms capable of interrogating what employees are working on and looking for learning opportunities to help.

It's not hard to see how microlearning – with its short, specific bursts of knowledge – fits into this model nicely.

Our MD, Darren Hockley, explains what learning in the flow of work is in this bite-sized video.

Microlearning is scalable

Microlearning is an ideal solution for scalable content development, making it a convenient and very cost-effective model for businesses looking to keep staff up to date across various training topics.

This is because, not only can microlearning assets be reused by and rolled out quickly to large groups of learners, it's also much easier to remove, replace, or update small chunks of content than it is to redesign a lengthy eLearning course or rewrite an entire policy document.

This same logic can be applied when it comes to the customisation of microlearning content too. Let's say, if a particular organisation has specific needs, goals, or interests it wishes to address at certain times, or a knowledge gap is uncovered and needs closing ASAP. Microlearning is easy to adapt and administrate in both these circumstances.

Furthermore – and perhaps most interestingly of all – microlearning can be utilised as a tool to move away from broad-content learning (where all users take the same eLearning course or curriculum and are most likely exposed to materials they may already know or do not need to know for their roles).

This is because the granular, nimble nature of microlearning allows for adaptive learning paths to be drawn. Using diagnostic assessments and intelligent algorithms, a smart eLearning platform could cherry-pick microlearning 'nuggets' depending on what learners need to know, what they already know, and what they don't need to know for their job. Each microlearning intervention then becomes a building-block, one piece of a longer curriculum which targets each learner's specific requirements and knowledge gaps.

Read five ways adaptive learning improves compliance training.

Microlearning is measurable

Being able to measure the impact of any learning intervention is crucial for driving lasting behavioral change, and this is another area where the granular nature of microlearning thrives. It's much easier to tie microlearning training to outcomes because each key message or learning objective is isolated.

As you can imagine, this makes it much simpler to observe how users are responding to and answering very specific questions on very specific topics – and to compare what the success and failure rates look like for similar topics presented in different formats.

Organisations won't have to wait long to assess their ROI when it comes to microlearning because – despite the short nature of microlearning modules – each instance produces plenty of data, and quickly too. Looking over this data will tell us plenty about whether the questions asked in each course are effective, whether the learning-content that leads up to the questions is effective, and how well learners are performing in the mini-assessments inside each microlearning segment.

It's easy to turn these data points into visual charts and graphs that tell a clear story executives need to know. Namely, whether their investment in microlearning is paying off in improved efficiency, higher profits, and more motivated and skilled employees.

What next?

Why not analyse your own compliance, health and safety, or performance training to see where you need more engagement, better focus, improved metrics, or more flexibility. If this is something our friendly team can help you with, please feel free to drop us a line, we're always happy to help.