Size Does Matter – Implementing a microlearning strategy

Bigger is seen to be better. In our personal lives we want bigger things. A bigger house, bigger boat, and a bigger pay packet. In business, we also want bigger things. Bigger group of customers or clients, bigger volume of sales, bigger profits, a bigger return on investment. But bigger is not better when it comes to learning. Bite-sized is better. Bite-sized learning (or microlearning) means we are focusing on less information, but getting better learning, better outcomes and better returns.

Microlearning is part of the solution.

Our world is changing. Technology is rapidly changing. We have greater access to information as we need it. How we are consuming information is changing. We have more interruptions/distractions affecting how much information we learn and retain. Learners can be easily overwhelmed by the volume of content pushed at them in training.

Microlearning allows for better learning. It allows us to provide the core information that is needed to fill the performance gap, to focus on the essential information needed to perform a task without the distraction of other less relevant (and often irrelevant) content. Learners will have greater retention, application and transfer of learning. This will result in better outcomes. It is also cheaper to develop, which with the better outcomes, will result in a better ROI.


Microlearning means we are focusing on less information, but getting better learning, better outcomes and better returns.

The benefits of microlearning

There are numerous benefits to implementing a microlearning strategy, including:

Reduces cognitive load

Brain based study has shown that “physiologically, your neurons are keen and alert for no more than 20 consecutive minutes. At the end of those 20 minutes, your neurons have gone from full-fledged alert to total collapse” (Abreena Tompkins). A microlearning approach means less content is delivered, eliminating the issue of cognitive overload.

Pulled not pushed

Microlearning allows for learners to pull the pieces of content they need. Not have content pushed at them. This provides greater opportunity for personalisation.

Focus on the core

The Pareto Principle or the 80/20 rule applies equally as well in learning. 20% of the learning provides 80% of the results. By stripping away the excess, we can focus on the core information that will be retained, applied and impact on business performance.

What is microlearning?

Microlearning incorporates small bite-sized learning. It is learning that is targeted to a specific learning objective, includes a focused learning activity and is part of a larger strategy.

An effective microlearning strategy will be made up of:

  1. Microcontent – small bites (up to 7 minutes in length) of easily consumed content.
  2. Microactivities – structured activities that allow the learner to apply the knowledge
  3. Micromedia – tools such as twitter, vine, yammer to allow social interaction

Microlearning is made up of microcontent, microactivities and micromedia.

Implementing microlearning

Microlearning is not a single learning event. It’s not simply compressing a full day workshop into 90 minutes, or converting an hour long online training piece into a 5 minute video. Microlearning is a strategy, a process for short bursts of easily consumed (and retained) content to be provided to learners.

It includes:

  1. Engage – take steps to prepare the learner and engage them in the content.
  2. Consume – where learners consume the content.
  3. Action – where a microlearning activity takes place.

“Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short.” Henry David Thoreau, 1857.

Microlearning is an effective tool for greater retention, application and transfer of learning. But it’s not a simple quick fix. Building quality bite-sized content can take more time than traditonal elearning, but will have a greater impact.

The following seven step process can be applied to implementing a microlearning strategy:

  1. Evaluate
    Determine what courses and content you want to convert to microlearning. Analyse the organisation’s needs and determine the behaviour that needs to be changed.
  2. Prepare the learner
    Prepare the learner for a different style of learning. Engage them and get them motivated.
  3. Identify the application points
    Determine the key pieces of content that learners will need to know and the key activities they will perform to meet the performance objectives
  4. Identify the organics
    These are the stories and other elements that give life to the content. The elements that give the content some context.
  5. Identify the extras
    This might be job aids or any otther extra information that learners could link to.
  6. Trigger the action 
    Develop microactivities that relate to the context, that learners can apply the knowledge.
  7. Evaluate
    Evaluate the outcomes. Review, tweak and repeat.

Making it Bite Sized

For too long training and learning events have been too large, requiring learners to try (and usually fail) to remember large pieces of content. Bite sized learning provides content in smaller easily consumed chunks of content.

‘Divide each difficulty into as many parts as is feasibly possible and necessary to resolve it’ (Descarte).

Descartes must have been a fortune teller because he describes our modern lifestyle. No longer does a whole music album get purchased, rather just a song. People read articles not the whole magazine. For the modern day learner, bite size is the right size. Brain based study has shown that “physiologically, your neurons are keen and alert for no more than 20 consecutive minutes. At the end of those 20 minutes, your neurons have gone from full-fledged alert to total collapse”. Not only is bite sized learning beneficial for your brain, it provides an opportunity to learn in a time effective manner in our busy day to day lives. Learners and managers are demanding more effective and efficient learning times due to rapidly changing topics, on-the-job performance needs, an abundance of mobile learning tools and faster and more reliable internet connections. Bite sized learning provides the time challenged learner with a greater opportunity to access the content they need in the small spaces of time they have available. So, why is bite size the right size and how does it achieve better training, outcomes and returns?

  • Bite sized training is easier to remember, reducing the cognitive load on participants
  • More effective use of time, focusing on smaller specific need to know pieces of content
  • Time spent on learning is more compact and targeted resulting in more cost effective training
  • Bite sized content is easier to update, with
  • Bite sized learning objects are more mobile and transportable, able to used in different courses or learning environments

What can you do to ensure your training is bite sized and the right size?

  • Make sure new concepts can be presented in segments so natural breaks can be inserted
  • When designing new training, consider how the training would look if presented in different modalities and easily recreated
  • Ensure it is very easy for participants to get the concept really quickly with relevant visuals and aesthetic considerations
  • Build your courses from your key facts
  • Make feedback about your course length a priority

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