An introduction to Micro-learning

Systematic corporate training has been around since the 1870s, but only after eLearning, SCORM and mobile devices came into their own in the 2000s were L&D managers finally able to unshackle the learner from the classroom. It turned out to be just in time. The next generation of learners, the so-called “Late Millennial” / “Gen Z” generation, the first to grow up with social media and smartphones, were used to engaging, short communication accessible at their convenience. The eLearning industry too evolved a new style of learning that replicated social media’s communication style- powerful messaging in short, engaging bursts. This became known as “microlearning”.

Microlearning has a few distinct features that social media users recognize immediately, like:

  1. Length– Most microlearning modules (or micromodules) are 3-5 minutes long.
  2. Tone– The tone is conversational, closer to a professional than an academic setting.
  3. Result oriented– Microlearning modules solve an immediate, well-defined need.

Micro- content may be bite-sized, but its impact on learning strategy is large. For one, it is versatile- it can act as standalone training material, or as companion material for more formal training. For another, its shorter length means lower cost, so a company can use its L&D budget efficiently. Finally, with the rise of xAPI, microlearning modules mean more lightweight files which can be streamed, downloaded, and embedded easily into third party platforms, allowing learning experiences to be crafted from a bunch of plug-and-play micro modules.

Even as more companies become aware of and adopt microlearning it is easy to get it wrong. Microlearning is more than just “snipping” from larger content. Also, it is not suitable for all learning objectives. Good instructional designers need to understand when and how to implement this training technique to maximize learning benefits. With that in mind, we put together a list of five cardinal design principles to keep in mind when making quality microcontent:

  1. Make a point (but just one)– A micro learning module is meant to be short, packed with content, and hyper-focused. That means in 3 minutes the learner should learn a lot about one particular thing. Content developers should ensure “must to know” material comes through clearly and emphatically. If the module tries to teach too much in a short span, the learner will likely not retain anything. A focused module allows a learner to focus on all the points made in the module. Have another point to make? Make another module!
  2. Keep it visual– A micromodule is most likely to be viewed on a mobile device. Therefore, visual engagement is critical for learner engagement. Wherever appropriate information should be communicated via infographics, photographs, videos, etc. Whatever the case, think back to the last thing that kept you engaged, and put yourself in the learner’s shoes. Use a combination of visuals and talking heads but stay away from monotony!
  3. Form follows function– Microlearning is a learning technique and not limited to a single medium. Apart from elearning, it also covers text, video, infographics and audio. Once the scope of microlearning is thus expanded, the designer is free to think of the elements. Every element, whether core or aesthetic, should serve a function. The designer should choose from material that needs to be read (PDFs, ebooks), viewed (videos, animations, simulations), participated in (gamification, quizzes, interactive panels) or just heard (speech, music etc.). If done right a high engagement level is almost certain.
  4. Part of a whole– Corporations are especially attracted to microlearning because it is central to the concept of “continuous learning”. Each micromodule is complete in itself and can be consumed with no previous or later links; however if carefully made part of a series that is mapped to a typical employee learning journey, the micromodule directly helps the learner in grasping the next micromodule more easily, even if there is a significant time gap between the learner accessing successive modules. Corporations love the idea of self-motivated, learning employees who sip learning and show immediate results in their work.
  5. Personalize the Examples– Make the learner’s journey easier by including as much familiarity as possible. Language, characters, setting and scenarios should reflect the target audience, and match its social, economic, cultural and other sensibilities so the core message can be driven through easily in a relatable manner. There are many aspects to the personalization, from the style of presentation to the color schema used. All these aspects require careful study of one’s audience. Thus, this principle is really a pointer to a larger point, namely “Knowing one’s audience” which is as true for microlearning as for eLearning in general.

That’s it. The five fundamental principles of good microlearning design. Let us know what you think. Do you agree with our list? Do you think we missed one? Let us know! And if you need help creating your microcontent or overall econtent strategy, consider giving us a shout. We work with really, really big (>100,000 employees) organizations to really, really small (1 person) but interesting firms to create great elearning content.

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