Microlearning – the next big thing is small!

Vector flat design. Businessman hand tablet touching screen

Of the many sessions on our radar at the DevLearn Conference in Las Vegas recently, microlearning was one of the most talked about topics, filling the room each time. It seems everyone wants to know more about what it is, how it works and how it can transform their training initiatives, silver bullet style.

It turns out though, according to JD Dillon (learngeek.co) who delivered a particularly engaging session, we should stop talking about microlearning as something separate from ‘learning’ – it should simply be what we are doing to fit the needs of today’s learners – i.e. creating opportunities that match how individuals want to find and consume learning. This may sound obvious, but it isn’t always uppermost in the mind of business stakeholders when specifying the build of training courses.

What this means is that we need to design learning with the following in mind:

  1. Today’s learners are short on time. When was the last time you heard anyone say ‘make this course as long as you like, staff have plenty of time available to do this’?! Because of this, they want their learning to be concise and absolutely relevant (e.g. just show me what do I need to know to be compliant in my day to day work, don’t tell me everything the FCA rulebook says on this subject with a lesson on the history of regulation thrown in for good measure).

  2. Attention/concentration spans are shorter – think about it, if a video pops up on your social media, or on a search engine, what’s the maximum time you’re likely to be prepared to watch? Two minutes, Five? Ten? Not much more I’ll bet. Gone are the days when we can expect learners to be happy to sit through an hour of linear eLearning where the main form of interaction is clicking the ‘next’ button.

  3. Learning needs to be readily accessible. Learners will switch off if they have to go through eight clicks to get to a video on their LMS when they can access a video on YouTube in one. The learning needs to come to the rescue, for example, with a just in time video (JIT) approach at the learner’s fingertips – increasingly on their smartphone or tablet - intertwined within their working day.

Making the learning concise and relevant can be a challenge when you are working with subject matter experts, who are keen to ensure that everything they know on a subject is shared. The way to manage this is to start the design of your course by clearly identifying what the measurable outcome of the training needs to be eg. ‘reduce absenteeism through stress by 50%’. Then consider what behaviours need to change to achieve this outcome. Next, identify what content exists that can be used to create the training. Doing it this way round will very often reveal that you can address this training need with a much more concise set of messages then you might have thought.

Once you’re following these principles in the design of your learning, the next thing to consider is the mode of delivery. This doesn’t always need to be eLearning in the traditional sense, try mixing it up a little in terms of format. Again, think about what learners are doing outside of their formal corporate training when they want to learn more about a subject and consider mirroring that. For example, podcasts and interactive PDFs can be cheaper to produce than eLearning. So too can short, animated videos, these all require less planning, less storyboarding and less QA.

Of course, this approach works well for introductory and basic information, fulfilling short-term knowledge gaps. However, when you are keeping it short and sweet, it can be difficult to deliver more than one learning objective at a time. Although this approach may not appear to support deeper or long-term learning, elements of microlearning can be combined and used for learning reinforcement over a period of time, as part of an ongoing campaign, with individual elements ‘drip fed’ at regular intervals. Too often we treat the design of learning aimed at changing behaviours as a one-off exercise, when in fact we should be taking a lead from our friends in marketing and designing something aimed to deliver short, sharp, regular messages and knowledge tests to build retention over time.

Corporate environments will still need quality content, with deeper knowledge or context and, where CPD is a requirement, these short sharp modules may not qualify for CPD points or credits – unless part of a wider pathway, perhaps as part of a blended learning programme. The above principles of relevancy and concision should still apply; the ability to deliver this depends on whether your LMS supports this ie. providing the ability to quickly and easily find and select the right modules and combine them into pathways.

Microlearning is perfectly aligned with our 'Learning Ecosphere' concept, which looks at a new way of considering the challenges presented by organisational learning - including reimagining the relationship between established and new learning methods. With the Ecosphere in mind, we recently created a GDPR course, which will help firms prepare for the introduction of this important regulation coming into force May 25th, 2018.

Here's our take on introducing a topic in a microlearning format:

In summary, let’s see if we can make the learning we push out to our learners as accessible, immediate, entertaining and enjoyable as the learning they seek out for themselves. Now that could be big!

If you want to explore the Learning Ecosphere further you can download a copy of the white paper here.


Helen Watts

Helen Watts

eLearning Director

Helen’s role enables her to drive the success of Access Learning products through the highest standards…

View articles by author

Subscribe to the Unicorn newsletter for the latest updates

Please complete missing fields or check information is correct.