Two umbrellas in sand representing microlearning
Training & Learning

What is Microlearning: All You Need To Know In 2024

Just like our phones and computers, the human brain has limited storage space. With constant information overload, we can make optimum use of our neurons by processing small bits of knowledge at a time. That way, we can focus on useful, relevant information and maximize our chances of retaining it. 

Microlearning, also known as bite-sized learning, improves knowledge retention and employee engagement.

Microlearning is a fast, flexible employee-approved method of training that can be accessed in the flow of work. This makes it possible for learners to instantly apply the information. To adapt to the microlearning trend, you need to revamp your training with short videos or tutorials and collaborative learning methods. Some examples are employee-created courses, gamification, and discussion forums.

What is microlearning?

Microlearning means learning in small chunks of information. Such as short videos, quick quizzes, or a few minutes of gamified training. The ideal length for microlearning, or micro-courses, ranges between 1 and 10 minutes. 

These short bursts of learning, delivered when learners need the information, aim to defeat the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve, which explains that learners quickly forget new knowledge within days of learning it. It’s why only 12% of employees actually apply the skills they learn in training programs to their jobs. Because microlearning emphasizes learning in the flow of work, your teams zare more likely to remember what they learn. 

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Microlearning vs macrolearning

While microlearning is quick, interactive, and flexible, macrolearning focuses on delivering a range of content on a topic that takes hours or days to complete. 

Macrolearning is the traditional way of learning that involves training a specific number of learners on a set schedule. Typically, these formal learning interventions take place in a classroom that’s instructor-led and usually involves a one-way relay of information on a particular subject area. The topics for learning are usually decided by L&D professionals at the company, not the learners themselves. 

With the shift to eLearning, macrolearning also includes Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), which are self-paced courses learners access for free on the internet, or Virtual Instructor-led Training (VILT) courses. Broadly speaking, the macrolearning approach still involves consuming a large body of content on a topic that may or may not be related to the task at hand. In contrast, microlearning relates learning to the exact skill or knowledge employees need—in small nuggets of information.

The ideal length for microlearning, or micro-courses, ranges between 1 and 10 minutes. 

Benefits of microlearning

Microlearning enables employees to learn in the flow of work with a continuous learning cycle. Combined with low training costs and speedy employee development, this helps you become a true learning organization

Employees prefer microlearning 

Employees love microlearning because it is relevant and useful and offers them the flexibility to learn at their convenience. In the Great Reshuffle, 81% of executives altered workplace policies to give employees more flexibility. Microlearning plays a strategic role in this transformation by letting employees control the flow of information and create custom learning paths.

Plus, microlearning’s “quick fix” methodology motivates employees to seek learning in the flow of work, making them more productive and confident. In other words, microlearning helps employees take control of their own pace of development, making this learning approach an employee favorite. 

Microlearning improves focus and retention

Focusing on just one aspect of a new subject is far easier than attempting to become an expert on the entire topic. It’s why microlearning increases knowledge retention by at least 50%.

For instance, if you’re creating a project calendar and want to move rows and columns in your spreadsheet, a 1-minute micro tutorial on how to do this exact task is much more helpful than sitting through an entire course on Excel skills. You can focus on learning a new skill and immediately apply the knowledge to your spreadsheet. Plus, you’re more likely to remember how to do it the next time. 

Microlearning is far more efficient in helping learners retain knowledge compared to traditional classroom training because learning in digestible chunks saves information to our working memory, the short-term storage of our brain that helps us execute tasks. 

The constant notifications from our phones and computers make it difficult to concentrate for too long without getting distracted. Microlearning is the answer to these shortened attention spans; for example, it’s easier to finish a 3-minute training module rather than a 45-minute lesson without any distraction. 

Microlearning boosts learning engagement 

Microlearning can engage learners instantly because a short text or a quick video does not require a huge time or attention commitment. It’s part of why tweets and TikToks are so popular—their bite-sized content appeals to the modern workforce who want to consume a wide variety of material in increasingly shorter time spans.

Plus, microlearning offers built-in learning objectives—learners want an answer to a specific question that solves a current problem. This raises engagement because the learner wants to gain the knowledge or skill. Unsurprisingly, the average completion rate of a 10-minute microlearning course is 83%, compared with the average macrolearning course completion rate of 20–30%

Microlearning costs less and increases ROI 

With microlearning, you’re utilizing institutional knowledge rather than paying instructional designers to create eLearning courses that may become outdated. 

In the collaborative learning approach, subject matter experts within your company become course authors who create mini courses on a topic they are knowledgeable about. Peers leave feedback or become co-authors, helping to keep content fresh and updated.

Plus, employee-generated courses are likely to be more relevant and useful because your teams are more familiar with business operations than external experts. So, each course an employee creates helps other teammates and fills a skills gap. This creates a high return on investment (ROI) and saves you precious corporate training dollars. 

Microlearning speeds up learning and development

Microlearning courses are quick to digest and to create. Because microlearning tends to focus on just one or two aspects of a task or skill, learning is easier and less formal. Plus, when employees learn in the flow of work, they’re able to use that information immediately, making them more efficient and freeing up brain space for more learning. Given that both millennials and Gen Z want continuous career growth (employees even name opportunities to learn and grow as the highest driver of workplace culture), microlearning can play an instrumental part in fulfilling this need. 

Microlearning offers on-the-job support 

The current workforce values on-the-job support that helps them learn quickly and efficiently. Microlearning offers millennials and Gen Z the instant answers they want with grab-and-go training instead of traditional training sessions that go on for hours or days. In answer to this call, 85% of L&D professionals expect to embed learning and skill-building into an employee’s day-to-day experiences. As learning takes center stage in the work lives of today’s professionals, microlearning can make this a reality by offering the right amount of on-the-job support at the right time.

With microlearning, you’re utilizing institutional knowledge rather than paying instructional designers to create eLearning courses that may become outdated. 

Examples of Microlearning

Even if you think you've never consciously tried microlearning, chances are you engage in it regularly without realizing. Here are five common microlearning examples you probably already engage with:

  1. Infographics: Microlearning content can be presented in the form of infographics. These visual representations can quickly convey key information, making it easy for learners to consume and retain.
  2. Short podcasts: Creating brief, focused podcasts that cover specific topics allows employees to access information on the go. These podcasts can be easily integrated into daily routines, providing a convenient way to learn.
  3. Videos: Microlearning often involves short video content. These videos can cover specific skills, processes, or concepts, providing a visual and engaging way for employees to grasp information quickly.
  4. E-games: Gamification is a popular technique in microlearning. Creating interactive games that simulate real-world scenarios allows employees to learn and apply skills in a fun and engaging way.
  5. Simulation training: AI-simulated scenarios, such as sales pitches at different difficulty levels, provide practical experience and enhance skills. 360Learning’s CEO built a great example of simulation training using a custom AI chatbot. It lets you play the role of a manager speaking to an employee who didn’t hit their goals. 
  6. Mobile learning nuggets: Create bite-sized learning content optimized for mobile devices. This could include 3-minute lessons on "Effective Team Communication" or "Quick Sales Pitch Tips." Mobile learning allows employees to access training on the go, maximizing flexibility and convenience.

Microlearning best practices for L&D teams

For microlearning to be an effective learning strategy, it needs to be built into company culture and processes. Microlearning should start at onboarding and become a constant part of employee development. 

But microlearning doesn’t have to be limited to short tutorials—lean on gamification, mobile learning, social learning, and collaborative learning to give microlearning a creative boost.

Microlearning can break larger processes like onboarding into shorter chunks 

Information overload is one of the most common causes of an onboarding failure. New hires are often nervous and need hefty explanations of how things work in their new roles and their new company. Packing their first weeks with a bunch of training sessions can make their new job look daunting. Plus, they may not be able to use all the training instantly because they aren’t deep into tasks. 

Microlearning helps ease their nerves and brains by offering the flexibility and snackable content that creates the most value from training. That way, new hires aren’t wrangling information and expectations from multiple sources all at once but are taking each day and task at a time. Employ a mix of infographics, microlearning videos, and interactive PDFs as creative ways to give new hires a fun and fulfilling onboarding experience

We use a range of microlearning techniques for employee onboarding at 360Learning. And of course, we use our own learning platform for that. One example is that when new folks join us, they get access to a set of quick tutorials about our tools.This gives them opportunities for microlearning during the spare time that often arises during onboarding.

We also use short quizzes to verify whether new hires understand what they've learned. Plus, we always ask for their feedback, for example by using small surveys to learn how new hires feel about their start with us. Their feedback helps us make onboarding even better.

An example of course feedback within our platform

New hires even take a short course on giving feedback. This way, they learn how we do things at 360Learning and why their opinions matter to us. It's all about making sure everyone's ready and happy to start their journey with us.

Add short videos or tutorials for use at the point of need 

Short videos and tutorials are ideal for both new hires and tenured employees because learners can access them as the need arises. Automation and rapid digitization create a need for constant learning, whether it’s gaining familiarity with a tool or understanding new developments in your field. Therefore, training isn’t a one-and-done action, but a continuous process. 

Use microlearning to complement this continuity with short videos in a company wiki that’s freely accessible to employees. Revisit videos from time to time to update information and invite employees to leave feedback and reactions. 

Example of using video in courses within 360Learning

Gamify training through leaderboards and rewards

Gamification and microlearning go hand in hand because games are also a fast-moving and informal method of learning. 90% of employees say that game-based training boosts their productivity, and 72% say it keeps them motivated to work harder. So, if you combine the advantages of microlearning with the benefits of gamification to create training, you are bound to get better learning outcomes.

360Learning gamifies learning with Achievements for exploring, taking courses, and posting in forums

You can create game-based training from scratch or gamify micro-courses with play-based elements like simulations, storytelling, challenges, and quizzes. 

Make microlearning easier to access through mobile learning 

You could create the most engaging microlearning training, but if a learner can’t access it on mobile, you’re leaving out a huge percentage of learners. After all, half of the time learners spend online is on a mobile device. Mobile microlearning brings the convenience of mobile and the bite-sized content of microlearning together to offer training that is quick, just in time, and available anytime, anywhere. 

Learners could be reflecting on a work challenge while commuting or while waiting at a dentist appointment, and a microlearning course viewed on a device that’s already in their hands is a great time-saver.

But mobile learning isn’t just training that can be accessed on mobile. Mobile microlearning is also about using the features of a mobile platform that make them so addictive—like real-time feedback and interaction, instant scores on quizzes, offline access, and the convenience and portability to learn in a way that works for each individual. 

Mobile microlearning in 360Learning’s app

Unsurprisingly, mobile users complete their training courses faster, retain more knowledge and are more confident in applying the new skills. Maximize the return on your microlearning courses by making them available through a mobile solution

Take a collaborative learning approach to microlearning 

The collaborative learning method is especially well-suited for microlearning because it adds the social and interactive elements that make training fun, fresh, and useful. With the switch to remote work, employees have noted an increased sense of isolation. Micro-courses created through collaboration also help reduce those negative effects and help build stronger teams

At 360Learning, we built a collaborative learning platform to help you truly unlock the potential of microlearning. Whether it’s through discussion forums, peer feedback, or peer-created courses

Instead of a top-down training needs analysis, a tool like 360Learning invites employees to point out knowledge gaps and request micro-courses on a particular subject. Teammates can upvote these requests, and you can decide which training to prioritize. SMEs can create impactful micro-courses using the authoring tool. Once the course is uploaded and live, peers can react to it, leave feedback, or engage in a discussion on the material. 

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Limitations of microlearning

Limited depth

Microlearning is designed for quick consumption, which can be a disadvantage when dealing with complex subjects that require in-depth exploration. The brief nature of microlearning modules may not provide sufficient detail for learners to fully grasp highly intricate topics.

Lack of context

Due to its concise format, microlearning modules may lack the context needed to understand how a piece of knowledge fits into a larger framework. This can make it challenging for learners to see the bigger picture or understand the subject comprehensively.

Informal atmosphere

The informal nature of microlearning, resembling social media environments, may undermine the seriousness of the learning effort. Learners accustomed to structured, traditional educational settings may find it challenging to engage in a less formal atmosphere, potentially affecting their commitment and focus.

Technology dependency

Microlearning heavily relies on digital platforms, which can create a barrier for learners who do not have consistent or reliable access to technology. In regions with low connectivity or among individuals with limited access to digital devices, the effectiveness of microlearning may be compromised.

Risk of superficial learning

Microlearning's short lessons might make you learn quickly but only on the surface. There’s a risk of learners acquiring quick facts but lacking a deeper understanding of the subject matter. This can be a concern when dealing with topics that require a more thorough exploration.

Choose microlearning for the right type of subjects

While microlearning is a super effective method of training, it may not be the best answer for every type of learning. 

For instance, complex topics and technical content may be difficult to explain in a few minutes. Other subjects may need synchronous discussion. In such cases, you could split up an expansive topic into smaller modules. Then try a blended microlearning approach, which includes a live component. 

While microlearning might not always be the best approach, collaborative learning is a universally effective strategy. By promoting interaction and peer learning, collaborative learning leads to a deeper understanding of all topics - big and small. Collaborative learning is at the heart of 360Learning’s platform. It uses AI and collaborative features to turn your in-house experts into key contributors, so you can upskill fast and continuously—all from within your own organization.

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