What is microlearning?

Microlearning delivers training in short, focused bites.

A typical microlearning session is no more than a few minutes long.

Research suggests that we learn more (and retain it better) when we study in short focused bursts. We’d suggest approaching it with a critical eye, though. There are pros and cons; some situations where microlearning shines and others where it’s not the right choice.

Why we like microlearning

  • We’re 100% in favour of killing off painfully long Powerpoint-driven training sessions.
  • In our experience, most online courses contain too much content.
  • Microlearning is a good way to fit learning in where otherwise it wouldn’t happen. A busy professional taking 5 minutes to dip into a course during a gap between meetings, for example.
  • It can be highly effective for helping learners to take in information and concepts.
  • It naturally takes advantages of the ‘spacing effect’. Shorter learning sessions spread over time are more effective at building long-term memory than a smaller number of marathon sessions.

Why it isn’t always the right answer

We’re usually seeking to help people develop skills, not just acquire knowledge or memorise information. And that means taking the time to try things out, and to practise those skills for more extended periods.

We also need to be careful that the promise of microlearning doesn’t leave the impression that there are short-cuts to learning. Or that it can make learning dramatically easier. Learning something new requires consistent hard work over a period of time. Learners need to be pushed beyond their comfort zones and stretch themselves. That can be hard to do in a 5-minute bitesize chunk of learning.

Getting the balance right

A well-designed microlearning programme: 

  • fits naturally into someone’s daily workflow so they don’t need to carve out time specifically for it;
  • involves simple and/or narrowly-focused topics;
  • promotes voluntary participation by making the learning content available at time of need;
  • is based on the latest research on brain science (how people actually learn) so it can be optimised to help learners access and retain the knowledge they need to be successful, and ultimately drive results for the business / organisation creating the training;
  • Is part of an overall learning programme designed to develop deep learning of new skills.

Great if: time is limited, you need a working / applicable understanding of knowledge / skills to be able to operate.

Not so great if: you need a holistic view of the subject matter, and need to be able to connect disparate elements into one coherent picture, there’s a large body of content / information that needs to be covered in detail.