What is microlearning and how do you best use it?
Blog / News | 07-06-23
Microlearning means learning in small doses at short intervals. This sounds easier than it actually is, because it does not mean reading half a chapter and leaving the other half for next week. So how do you use it properly and facilitate effective microlearning for employees?
Is leafing through a thick book or clicking through an awfully long e-learning module really ever something you like doing? And where do you even find the time for it? Lengthy learning modules are demotivating, tiring, and often boring.
Neuroscience tells us that it is more comfortable and more effective to learn at regular short intervals, rather than staring at your learning material for hours on end. Short, bite-sized modules are easier to consume. Instead of something you dread, they become something you can often squeeze in between other tasks. Aside from that, the small size makes it easier to repeat the modules more often (instead of doing one single long session). Repetition helps transfer knowledge and competencies from the short-term memory to the long-term memory as you keep actively recalling, reinforcing, and adding to the knowledge you have acquired. That is how you facilitate knowledge embedding and retention. It motivates more, and it keeps your people better engaged (learner engagement). Provided you set it up right, of course.
How to set it up
Microlearning is a great option for stand-alone learning modules that can be cut up into smaller chunks for learning at short intervals. Short and to the point, so that learners go through all the information from beginning to end in one short learning session. Don’t get sidetracked to topics that are only tangentially related to the main subject. Stay on the main track and keep the learning goal in sight. The art of discarding is key here: limit the module to crucial knowledge and skills.
You can also go too far in trying to be concise. Short learning modules will only be effective if people can place them in the right context, so that it is clear where and how to apply the learned material. Not just one module on one grammar rule, but multiple short modules on grammar that jointly fit into a greater whole (a language course). Additionally, having some variety in the learning material makes for a nicer learning experience than having to repeat the exact same information time and time again. You can insert variety by presenting the learning material in different ways. Microlearning is often assumed to be a form of e-learning, but you can do microlearning in various ways, such as with (interactive) infographics, short videos, question-based learning, etc.
How long a ‘learning session’ should be is, actually, something that is still the subject of considerable discussion. If you keep sessions down to 10 to 15 minutes on average, you will be fine. Do not make modules of under five minutes, because the whole learning process would become too fragmented and you run the risk of people struggling to contextualize them.
‘Complex branching scenarios’
The fact that modules are short does not mean they are superficial. You are entirely in control of that yourself. There are complex branching scenarios, for example, which are modules set up as a case: a realistic practical scenario. This kind of module has the learner solve problems and make decisions as they go through a realistic scenario. Every single choice they make has consequences, getting the learner engaged and making the short learning module immensely relevant to the learner who is put in complete control of the scenario. Aside from that, it is an ideal way to prepare someone for real-life situations. For more about the use of practical cases in learning modules, see here.
In order to make the most of the benefits of microlearning, mobile learning is the ideal option, i.e. learning on your smartphone or tablet. Learning modules have to be compatible with this medium and available as or in a mobile app. If they are, you can learn anywhere and any time you want. This possibility to quickly do a learning module in between other things is what makes microlearning modules so incredibly efficient and effective.
Time is money
Microlearning, especially in combination with mobile learning, can save you a lot of time. After all, just think about how much it costs to send all your employees off to training for a whole day, compared to having them take short learning breaks in between their regular day-to-day activities. This time aspect is particularly relevant in working lives these days. People have a lot on their plates. They have no time or are not given any time to plow through long, drawn-out e-learning modules. Besides, they generally prefer to ‘just get on with their work’. And so, learning sessions have to be short and effective, otherwise they are impossible to slot into busy work schedules. Learners have to be able to do them while waiting for a bus, traveling on a train, or during a 15-minute gap between meetings.
Sounds good. So does it mean you always have to use microlearning for all learning? Needless to say, there are numerous other good learning methods. And at the end of the day you always achieve deeper learning when you mix and match learning content and methods (blended learning). With complex, large-scale, and long-term learning processes you may want to mix in hands-on training and live discussions. Since doing hands-on training on a micro level may be complicated, you could alternate this kind of training with online microlearning modules. Capture the most crucial information in microlearning modules that are repeated on a regular basis to anchor information. Present the rest of the material using other, mutually reinforcing learning methods.
That’s why microlearning is the way forward
In short, when you master the art of discarding, you are able to make short and effective learning modules on individual subjects that learners can repeat at regular intervals. This will help get knowledge embedded for the long term. Keep the learning content varied and close to real life for even greater engagement and motivation among those who have to learn it.