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Learning Trends

What is Microlearning: The Ultimate Guide

Learning something new isn’t always easy, and traditional training methods take hours at a time and typically take place in a classroom away from work.

But this approach doesn’t give your employees the best chance to retain and apply new information in their current roles. As far back as 1885, researchers have known that we forget new information at a startling rate. 

Studies show we forget around 50 percent of what we learn within a single hour, 70 percent by the end of the day, and 90 percent within a week.

So what can you do to help employees retain what they learn? Microlearning. By teaching important topics in bite-sized pieces and reinforcing new information over time, you can help your teams remember their training and put it to use in their work. 

What is microlearning, and how does it work?

You may be wondering, what is microlearning? But, chances are you have already experienced microlearning without knowing it.

Often microlearning happens naturally. For example, when your parents told you to stand up straight or hold your fork a certain way at the table, they gave highly relevant microlessons. 

Corporate learning and development (L&D) teams have recently adopted a similar approach. Recognizing that people are busier than ever, forget new information quickly, and need to apply what they’ve learned to retain it, L&D professionals have created bite-sized on-demand learning modules.

Microlearning is:

  • Quick. Allowing learners to understand a new piece of information or process in just a few minutes
  • Flexible. Fitting into an employees schedule when they are available, rather than requiring them to set aside work to learn
  • Personalized. Allowing team members to choose what to learn based on their immediate needs and interests
  • Easy to use. Because the learning can happen in a variety of settings and can be accessed on multiple types of devices

Why you should care about microlearning

Is microlearning really that important? After all, haven’t companies successfully used traditional training formats for decades?

Whether companies have been successful with old-school training methods is up for debate, especially as current research reveals more about how quickly we forget what we learn. However, the reality is that people have access to far more information and technology than ever before, and learning styles have changed dramatically.

People have very short attention spans, and keeping employees focused and engaged is not easy. By creating short, personalized, and relevant training modules, you can meet your team members exactly where they are and deliver the information they need

Other benefits of microlearning include:

  • Inexpensive and quick to develop. Because you’re creating shorter modules, you can have them done quickly with less money, which helps you react to the changing needs of your departments and teams.
  • Easier to retain. When you learn something new in a short burst and immediately apply it, you’re much more likely to remember the new information. Having brief modules makes the material easier to review as well.
  • Fits into spare time. A common refrain is that employees often have to “look busy” despite not having much to do. Microlearning allows your team to use that occasional downtime to do something engaging that helps them perform better and grow their careers.
  • You can use various modalities. Microlearning can be developed as a game, a video, an infographic, and more. As a result, it’s more fun to develop and use. 

L&D is essential for your organization to grow, adapt to the market and competition, and have talented employees ready to step into leadership roles. By creating L&D modules that fit into your team members’ schedules, you’ll be better able to help your company succeed. 

Limitations of microlearning

Microlearning is a powerful tool, but there may be better approaches for some situations. For example, teaching complexly interrelated topics can take time in a micro-course context. In addition, you have to do a lot of work to point out the relationships between concepts, which may not fit into a bite-sized module.

Also, microlearning covers one learning objective at a time. If you’re in an environment where you need to teach multiple concepts quickly, such as new hire training, it’s better to stick with other learning formats. 

If you focus on microlearning to the exclusion of other teaching tools, you might also end up overspending. While creating a small course is often less expensive than a larger one, the costs will quickly increase if you create dozens of microlearning modules.

Finally, having dozens of microlearning options can be overwhelming. Research has shown that when given too many choices, people can become overwhelmed and feel unsatisfied no matter what they choose—a phenomenon known as the paradox of choice

By carefully planning your L&D program and using microlearning in the right context, you can take advantage of the benefits and avoid the drawbacks.

What to know before you get started creating microlearning

Now that you know what microlearning is and its benefits, it’s time to lay the foundation for your course creation.

Before you dive into any new training module, it’s important to answer these questions:

  • Who are your learners? Different groups will have different needs to address in the training process. For example, a group of Gen Z sales reps will have different needs than a group of Gen X accounting employees. 
  • What type of content should you use? Should the module be an e-course, a video, a game, or another format? Which topics are best suited for micro-teaching, and which need other training approaches? 
  • What technology will you use? Choosing a learning platform that makes modules easy to access is important if you want microlearning to be effective. 

Once you’ve answered these questions, it’s time to create effective mini-courses that help empower employees to improve their performance, grow in new ways, and prepare for new professional responsibilities. 

Key characteristics of effective microlearning

To create an engaging, useful microlearning module, include the following characteristics.

First, the module must be long enough to communicate a key concept but short enough to keep the learner’s attention and fit easily into their schedule. The goal is to keep the module as short as possible without sacrificing the training quality.

Effective microlearning also needs to be focused and pragmatic. Remember in school how everyone complained, “When am I ever going to use this in my future?” Adult learners have the same questions. So a great microlearning module will be practical.

Modules should also be accessible. Just because it’s short doesn’t mean you should skimp on high-quality design. Your training should be accessible to those with learning differences and available on-demand so that team members can learn whenever they have availability.

Excellent microlearning should also be targeted to a specific need. Employees get the most out of training with a clear goal, whether you’re teaching a new process, answering a common question, or providing a reminder to improve performance.

Finally, microlearning is best as part of a culture of learning where leaders can push information out to share new concepts or processes, and learners can pull information in when they have a specific question, interest, or need. 

Microlearning best practices

Knowing you have the right approach is important, but learning from those who have done it can help you avoid common pitfalls and mistakes. Here are some best practices you can adopt as you create your micro-courses.

Make sure microlearning makes sense. As powerful as bite-sized learning is, it’s not perfect in every situation. You have a hammer, but not everything is a nail. Instead, look over the purpose of the training and ensure that microlearning is the right approach.

Don’t start from scratch. One of the best parts of creating mini-courses is that you can repurpose existing materials. Take current training modules and find ways to make them bite-sized, engaging, and easy to access.

Don’t be dull. Just being short doesn’t make something interesting. You still need to create engaging content, including mixing in videos, humor, interaction, and more. However, all elements still need to serve the main purpose of teaching the concept.

Make it a game. People love games, as you can see from the millions of online game apps. If you can, turn your module into a game or introduce gamification elements, such as earning badges, building a character, or winning a battle. 

Examples of microlearning

We’re surrounded by microlearning, but we often don’t recognize it.

One example,  an error message gives you a bite-sized piece of information you often need to act on immediately. Notice it doesn’t tell you everything about your device and the inner workings of the software. Instead, it simply gives you a short, often actionable message about what’s wrong.

Pop-up explanations on websites are another example of microlearning. For instance, a website might have a small “i” you can hover over to get the definition of a specific term or process. Sometimes if you hover over an icon, you’ll get a bubble that explains more about what will happen if you click it.

You’ve probably seen a lot of microlearning videos online. They’re very popular and can teach you to do anything from changing a tire to fixing a leaky faucet. However, notice they don’t give you a full foundation in auto mechanics or plumbing—they help you solve a specific problem quickly.

Learning apps take advantage of microlearning because the developers know that people are busy and on the go. Take a language-learning app; it might give you a single vocabulary word of the day or might have a five-minute lesson you complete daily. 

Finally, infographics are a great example of microlearning. You get a lot of information put into a single engaging graphic. Notice that no one simply lists facts—they take advantage of often-funny graphics and other visual elements to keep things interesting and improve understanding. 

Take advantage of microlearning in your organization today

Microlearning is a great way to help your teams improve their performance and advance in their careers. You can teach new skills, concepts, and processes in bite-sized, on-demand modules that are easy to use and allow for frequent reinforcement.

To implement microlearning in your organization, you need the right platform. WorkRamp can help you engage employees and create a learning culture using microlearning and traditional training approaches. 

If you’d like to learn more about what WorkRamp can help you accomplish, contact us for a free, personalized demo. 


Anna Spooner

Freelance Writer

Anna Spooner is a digital strategist and marketer with over 11 years of experience. She writes content for various industries, including SaaS, medical and personal insurance, healthcare, education, marketing, and business. She enjoys the process of putting words around a company’s vision and is an expert at making complex ideas approachable and encouraging an audience to take action. 

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