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microlearning (microtraining)

Microlearning is an educational strategy that breaks complex topics down into short-form, stand-alone units of study that can be viewed as many times as necessary, whenever and wherever the learner has the need. Microlearning instructional modules are designed to be consumed in about five minutes and address one specific skill or knowledge gap topic. 

The convenience of microlearning, from both the learner and the educator’s point of view, has made this type of instructional delivery  popular in corporate learning environments. Scientific research suggests that a self-directed, modular approach to talent pipeline development improves knowledge retention. It also empowers employees by giving them the opportunity to build new skills directly in the context of the job they are being paid to do, without having to take time away from their job to attend training.

Although microlearning is most often associated with independent learning, modules can also be strung together to create guided learning experiences for individuals or small groups. The small chunks of instructional content can be tagged with metadata for easy search, access and reuse.

How does microlearning work?

In any given module, the learner is typically given 3-6 minutes to learn one specific objective by completing an action item such as: 

  • Watching a short instructional video and answering a question.
  • Playing an online learning game designed to teach a specific task. 
  • Reading an executive summary and answering a short series of questions. 
  • Viewing an infographic and answering a short series of questions. 
  • Using virtual flashcards to prepare for a quiz.
  • Virtually participating in a scenario-based simulation.

Microlearning modules are most often accessed as the need for knowledge arises, but they can also be assigned as part of an employee’s monthly or quarterly goals. Instructional modules, which are tagged with metadata that describes the module's learning objective, are typically stored in a library that is accessed through a mobile app, learning experience platform (LXP), public website or proprietary online knowledge base.

Microlearning vs. macrolearning

Advantages of microlearning

A microlearning approach to staff development can successfully address the problems of monolithic training platforms in a more natural manner. Perhaps one of the biggest advantages of microlearning is that the student can conduct a learning session at any time, from anywhere, using any type of computing device. 

In the past, a lot of e-learning initiatives were built around a macro-learning format that is commonly referred to as a MOOC (massive open online course). In corporate settings, MOOC content was often video-focused and the content was delivered through a learning management system (LMS) overseen by the organization’s human resource (HR) department or Chief Learning Officer (CLO).

While long-form presentations seemed to work well for high-level introductory material, employees often found it challenging to retain the information they received during marathon training sessions. Some HR managers also received pushback for this type of “just-in-case” training because it required employees to be pulled away from their daily work.

Another advantage of using a microlearning strategy is that short-form content is easier to update than long-form content. Having the ability to easily update learning modules is an important concern for educating employees in highly regulated industries such as finance and healthcare, because information in these two vertical industries constantly changes. When educational content is created in small, bite-sized modules, it can easily be updated to reflect new laws and regulations. 

Recently, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission determined that a firm can be guilty of security compliance violations for simply having an ineffective training program. Ensuring that the organization's training materials are always up-to-date  is another important driver for microlearning in the enterprise. 

Disadvantages of microlearning

Though microlearning is an effective learning strategy for reinforcement and retention, it is an inefficient approach to education for learners who need to gain mastery over a broad topic in a short period of time or acquire knowledge about a concept that cannot be broken down easily. 

In this type of learning scenario, a microlearning approach might even be harmful, especially if the learner lacks the necessary background to supply context and relate one learning objective to another.  Consider a university-level course in organic chemistry, for example. If every learning objective was broken down into lesson chunks of ten minutes or less, it’s likely that many students would struggle to master the material.

Microlearning software

These are just a few of the vendors who offer software platforms for developing enterprise microlearning training programs:

Axonify - According to their website, Axonify is a business-to-business (B2B) software as a service (SaaS) company and a leader in the microlearning market. 

Saba Software - Saba Software's website says they can help companies turn existing and future content into microlearning content. 

Mindtree - Mindtree says their Shotclasses product is a microlearning platform dedicated to enterprise learning. 

Bigtincan - Bigtincan says their Zunos sales learning platform helps companies use continuous training and microlearning modules to educate their workforce.

Sponge - According to their website, Sponge’s interactive microlearning products can identify gaps and check for knowledge retention.

Gameffective (Centrical) - Centrical uses advanced gamification, personalized microlearning, and real-time employee management for their employee learning platform. 

Qstream - Qstream's website says they are a microlearning pioneer with a commitment to designing and delivering corporate learning programs.

Grovo - According to Crunchbase, Grovo is the world’s leading MicrolearningⓇ solution.

EdApp - EdApp is a mobile first microlearning platform according to their website.

Gnowbe - According to Crunchbase, Gnowbe is a mobile first, web-enabled micro-learning solution designed specifically for behavior change that delivers business impact. 

ExpandShare - Expandshare’s services are promoted as a way to help companies produce and publish microlearning content.

BizLibrary - BizLibrary's website says they offer a microlearning video library for employee training sessions.

Where to find free microlearning modules

This video provides suggestions for free microlearning apps and websites that use a short-form approach to learn something new. 

This was last updated in February 2020
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