Microlearning is a buzzed-about approach that even people outside the learning and development field might have heard of. But for all that talk, it’s not always clear what this term really means. If you’re looking for some answers, we’ve got them! That said, you might want to grab a snack beforehand, because when it comes to understanding microlearning, some of the best analogies involve food.

1. What exactly is microlearning?

Think of your typical robust e-learning course as a hearty meal. It’s got a lot of different things to offer, and if you’re famished, it’s likely just what you’re looking for. But it also takes a lot of time to prepare and eat. And if you’re just a little peckish, it could be way more food than you actually want.

Microlearning, on the other hand, is like a simple snack. It’s focused on just one item you can take it in quickly, and if you just need a nibble, it hits the spot. And as with a snack, you can combine multiple microlearning courses to make something more substantial—think tapas for learning.

When people need to make online training, they often gravitate to the full-meal style for courses. And there is a time and place for that approach. But often your learners just need a little learning snack that quickly solves a problem and is easy to fit into a busy workday. That’s where microlearning comes in!

2. Is microlearning just training that’s short?

Being bite-size is just part of the recipe. That’s because being short doesn’t automatically equal a good learning experience. Think about taking a one-hour video lecture and cutting it into twelve five-minute chunks. It’s going to be awkward to watch because it wasn’t designed to be viewed in small segments. And it’s still going to take an hour to get through.

Good microlearning, on the other hand, is purposefully designed around the strengths and weaknesses of a short format. It breaks information or skill-building content into small, easy-to-consume bits, typically with each one laser-focused on achieving a single learning objective. 

With microlearning, creators refine the content to only what someone needs to cover that objective—nothing more, nothing less. To double down on efficiency, designers also focus on paring down copy as much as possible without losing clarity, and using multimedia and interactions when they’re the faster or clearer way to explain something.

3. What makes it effective?

When it comes to learning, microlearning has lots of things going for it.

  • The short length makes it feel approachable: When you give learners focused, easily consumable bites of content instead of a thousand-slide mega-course, getting through the content feels achievable instead of overwhelming.
  • Being bite-size also makes it bingeable: Have you ever sat down to nibble on a few chips and then accidentally eaten half the bag? It’s easy to lose track of how much you’re consuming when you’re taking it in in small bites. While that’s sometimes annoying when you’re snacking, it can be a big plus when it comes to learning. Since well-designed microlearning content is easy to ingest, learners might inadvertently binge more content than they would have in longer courses.
  • It respects learners’ time: Professional development is important, but often difficult for people to fit into a busy schedule. So providing a streamlined version of the content they need without any filler or bloat is a powerful way to make learners feel you respect their workload.
  • It’s easy to use in the moment: Splitting up learning into smaller, more targeted chunks makes it easier for learners to find exactly what they’re looking for in their moment of need. Learners can log on, find information quickly, and immediately apply it on the job.

4. How short does my microlearning need to be?

While you might see numbers like “under ten minutes” or “under five minutes” floated around, there’s actually no agreed-upon standard for how short something has to be to count as microlearning. That ambiguity is one thing creators can find frustrating with the concept of microlearning. It also means team members and stakeholders might not realize they’re all working off of different definitions.

Instead of focusing on time, a better guideline is to have each microlearning experience you create focus on a single, targeted learning objective. That will naturally guide your content toward being bite-size.

5. If it works so well, should I always use microlearning?

Microlearning is useful for a lot of situations. But no single format works best in every situation.

Microlearning can be a good fit if the information makes sense in small segments and it’s easy to see ways to break your content down into chunks. For instance, this approach would work well if you needed to teach people how to put together a few quick party snacks.

But if the topic needs a longer, deeper dive to explain, separating that content into short pieces will make it harder for learners to wrap their heads around. Think of trying to teach an in-depth course on French cooking. Most dishes are complex enough that a short lesson wouldn’t get the job done. And even if you could make that work, the breadth of the course topic would lead to an almost unmanageable number of mini-lessons. In that case, it’s easier to give learners longer-form lessons that cover each dish from start to finish.

6. Do I need to use a specific medium or app to create microlearning?

Not at all! You can use whatever medium—or mix of mediums—works best for your content and learners. And there’s no special app you need to buy to make something micro either.

That said, with the popularity of short-form content, some apps have added functionality to make it easier to create—like the new Microlearning feature in Rise 360. So keep an eye out for how your tools can help speed up microlearning design and development.


Microlearning is a buzzy term. But once you get past the hype, it’s easy to see situations this approach is well suited for. Want more ideas for how to use microlearning in the real world? Check out these tips and examples:

Have an additional example of microlearning that you think works particularly well? Be sure to share it in the comments. And don’t forget to follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn, and come back to E-Learning Heroes regularly for more helpful advice on everything related to e-learning.

Brian Seaman

While I agree that micro-learning is very important, I also feel that this is the new buzzword that has taken our industry by storm and some have the wrong idea of what it really means. I attended an e-learning conference back in October and one of the presenters spoke to this topic. His primary point was that we need to keep our training as short as possible due to attention spans. I would disagree with the idea that all learning needs to change to two minute learning segments. If a concept needs ten minutes of explaining then it takes ten minutes. It is the job of the designer to keep the learner engaged and keep the content to what the learner needs to know. Making learning segments too short could lead to confusion on how larger concepts relate or tie into each other. I would say t... Expand

Trina Rimmer
Shaun Thornton
Brian Seaman

Hello Shaun, I would be happy to answer this question. So speaking strictly from a Storyline approach because we use this type of coursework for people who are learning the software for the first time. Our approach is broken into three different offerings within a lesson. There is the actual content that goes over the learning objectives, important concepts, and specific information one needs to know before using the product. There is also a demonstration which takes a business case and applies into using the product. Some lessons also offer a simulation where the learner can complete a series of tasks similar to the business case. Note: This is more than just a click through. We make the content portion required and the demo and simulation optional. In relation to this article, I th... Expand

Alex Arathoon

Hi Brian, currently I'm building a whole range of modules as part of an on-boarding process for a courier company. Whilst most content is 10-15 mins in length some topics are vast one module being 40mins! Without much time to reflect and apply the content will get lost. Due to time pressure, we had little time to prepare and had to 'get it done' - sound familiar. After the launch, it's been decided to break these monster modules and save the poor darlings from falling asleep whilst listening to accounting guidelines. I am now more in favour of producing 1x module per discrete topic - 5 mins at most. After all the modules will serve as a reference tool post course so content needs to be found easily. I do like the idea of producing a summary module to link the content together. If out LM... Expand

Joshua Stoner
Pamela LeBrun
Kristin Peters

I have had similar thoughts Neha; I'm weighing whether or not to try this approach for a new project. I have old content that is very text heavy; if I broke it into small chunks the dev time is less because I won't make a lot of changes to what's on the slide but I get to address the cognitive overload, which could arguably be our greatest ROI here. The goal was to not make a lot of changes to the slides/design so that we could finish the project quickly.... To your question now - I've realized that if I want to use this idea, then I'm a bit challenged when it comes to contextual differentiation. If I want to provide context for my large and varied workforce, I have to touch each slide - and if I'm doing that, I'm back to a full scale project. So, I would say that micro-learning might no... Expand

Greg Brown