what is micro-learning header image

(Fair warning, this post might make you hungry. If it’s getting close to mealtime, you may want to grab a snack to nibble while you read.)

A full-length e-learning course is like a big, ol’ birthday cake. It takes a long time to prepare. It’s rich, fancy, and a little intimidating. It’s not the kind of dessert you’d eat by yourself in one sitting without serious repercussions. You need to give it a little time to digest.

Micro-learning, on the other hand, is like a batch of mini-muffins: easy to down in a few nibbles. You hardly even notice how many muffins you've popped into your mouth until you’ve downed a baker’s dozen.

Similarly, micro-learning breaks information or skill-building content into small, quick-to-consume bits. Micro-learning focuses on helping learners achieve one discrete objective—usually in five minutes or less—making it a little different than mini-courses, which break large courses into smaller (10- to 15-minute) modules.

In this post by Tom Kuhlmann about structuring long e-learning courses, he introduces the concept of micro-learning as “coursels”—mini-muffin–size bites of information:

The trend in online learning is small, digestible chunks. Some people call it YouTube learning. I like to call them coursels (as in course morsels). The trend makes sense. We’re using more and more mobile devices where quick-hit training works better, and chunked content is easier to process.

Tom is talking about breaking meaty e-learning into smaller chunks—cutting the birthday cake into manageable slices, so to speak. This explanation also provides a good framework for thinking about micro-learning.

There are tons of reasons that micro-learning is a great approach. Let’s take a look at a few.

Approachability

When you give learners short, focused, easily consumable bites of content instead of a thousand-slide mega-course, the lessons feel achievable. By requiring less of a learner’s time and energy, you may find that they paradoxically consume more content than if you hit them with a wall of words. Micro-learning is easier to take on, and easier to get through, than traditional courses.

Moment-of-Need Learning

By splitting up learning into smaller, more targeted chunks, you make it easier for learners to find exactly what they are looking for in the moment of need. Learners can log on, get the information they need quickly, and get back to doing what they’re doing. So instead of making learners cull through the entire process for baking cupcakes, you can give them the ability to choose only the step of the recipe they need.

Variety

Because micro-learning is small, you can deliver it in a variety of different formats. There will be bits of information that are best delivered in a short training video, where others may require a scenario, or even just working through a quick interactive checklist. Because you’re focused on just one learning objective, you have more freedom to experiment with different formats without having to build an entire course.

How to Approach Building Micro-Learning

If you’re interested in giving micro-learning a try, you already have an ample amount of information to get started. But here are some questions to ask yourself before sitting down to build out a micro-learning strategy:

  • How will you get everyone on your team on board with shorter content?
  • How will you introduce micro-learning to your organization and to learners?
  • What information could be helpful to give learners on the job?
  • What’s your strategy for measuring the effectiveness of your micro-learning to make sure it’s still delivering full-size impact?
  • Can your learners access things like audio and video on the job?

By beginning to answer some of these questions, you’ll be well on your way to designing a micro-learning program to help get your learners up and running stat.

Are you already on board with micro-learning? Share your experience in the comments.

And don’t forget to follow us on Twitter and come back to E-Learning Heroes regularly for more helpful advice on everything related to e-learning.

14 Comments
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