The recent buzz around the word microlearning hints at the promise of effectiveness and great results. Microlearning is an edgy and unusual solution that interests many L&D managers and senior leaders. It is an instructional approach that breaks complex subjects into short, individual units of study. These learning units can be viewed as many times as needed, from anywhere and at any time. Microlearning has proven to be a more engaging method of learning that boosts knowledge retention. This article dives into the best practices, explaining when to use, and how to design an effective microlearning strategy. It explores the ways to create and deliver high-quality content in interesting formats, to enhance the efficiency of microlearning programs.
Corporate environments are becoming increasingly fast-paced. The ever-growing expectations of customers are accompanied by the need for ever-evolving skill sets. Yet, as deadlines approach, the time to hone those skills is far out of sight. So, how can one ensure employees meet the need for constant upskilling, while meeting all their deadlines?
To this problem, microlearning provides an excellent solution. So, let’s understand what microlearning is, where to apply it, and some best practices to implement an efficient microlearning strategy.
What is Microlearning?
In his book ‘Microlearning: Short and Sweet’, Karl Kapp, world-renowned Professor of Instructional Technology, defines microlearning as
“Microlearning is an instructional unit that provides a short engagement in an activity intentionally designed to elicit a specific outcome from the participant.”
– Karl Kapp (Professor of Instructional Technology, Bloomsburg University)
In simple words, microlearning is about short engagement and big specific outcomes. This novel solution can be successfully implemented by gaining an in-depth understanding of its forms, challenges, and best practices. In this article, we will look at the best practices of microlearning.
But first, it is essential to understand how microlearning is different from traditional forms of learning. Most notably, macrolearning. Let’s take a look.
Microlearning v/s Macrolearning
Macrolearning is a method of formal training that can be experienced, for example in schools, through textbooks, etc. As it focuses on larger and more complex skill areas, macrolearning is one of the preferred educational options for mastering a new field of study. This approach requires a great deal of time, dedication, and effort.
Macrolearning is often associated with classroom training and traditional LMS. Though it typically requires the instructor and learner to be present during the course, macrolearning courses can now also be taken online. The course knowledge is delivered over a certain period, with regular assessments to test the learner’s understanding of the concepts.
Though ideal for learning complex topics, macrolearning has its cons. Most importantly, it does not provide quick access to time-sensitive information. In this fast-moving world, easy access to current information is essential to increase efficiency and productivity.
Student studying in a library: example of traditional macrolearning
Microlearning is vastly different, as it only requires minimal time and effort. It divides large portions of information into short bite-sized pieces of content that a learner can easily learn whenever they want.
Microlearning is also often constructed and delivered in a mobile-first model. It is accessible on smartphones, browsers, etc., and uses interactive digital mediums to deliver information. This makes it highly accessible, meaning a learner can even consume knowledge on the go.
For example, employees can watch a short video tutorial about best sales techniques while stuck in commute. This way, they can learn something new and important, without feeling overwhelmed by the time and energy they spent.
Employee watches a video tutorial on a mobile device, while commuting to work: an example of microlearning solution
In microlearning, each small piece of content includes critical instructional elements, such as practice, feedback, and reflection. This structure ensures the learning experience is well-rounded with practical applications. The micro-learning paradigm fits into the concept of Spaced Repetition (Redondo et al., 2020), which involves multiple short-review sessions. Microlearning enables this because the content is consumed quickly and easily.
Microlearning also proves to be highly useful for maintaining and updating knowledge, because learners can review their material whenever they need it. The content is also designed for maximum impact with minimal learning effort. It further motivates learners, as they are not intimidated by large amounts of information and complex assessments.
The table below summarizes the difference between Microlearning and Macrolearning.
Table 1: Microlearning v/s Macrolearning
|New and emerging form of learning.||Traditional method of learning.|
|Interactive formats, bite-sized content.||Textbooks, long online courses.|
|Suitable for quickly learning new skills, testing, follow-up.||Ideal for in-depth study of complex topics.|
|On-the-go viewing enables easy access.||Does not provide quick access to time-sensitive information.|
|Example: Short videos about specific functions of new accounting software.||Example: A two-week training course about a new accounting software.|
That said, like any other learning method, microlearning also has its downside. The break-down of knowledge into bite-sized modules runs the risk of fragmentation. Individual content pieces may become alienated from the larger topic, which can lead to incomplete learning. Thus, proper planning and structure are imperative to prevent loss of information. A microlearning strategy must ensure that the information is not separated from its context, as this leads to confusion and demotivation.
For the right applications of microlearning, it is important to understand the learning situations it is best suited to.
When to Use Microlearning
Microlearning is suitable for concepts that can be taught and learned quickly, in several short sessions. This form of learning is best when dealing with information that can be divided into smaller portions for quick reviews.
For example, a microlearning course about MS Excel can consist of short videos explaining how to use individual functions on the software. These videos can also provide useful tips and shortcuts to best utilize the various features. Employees can watch these short videos if they feel stuck while working on MS Excel, or even during breaks to brush up on their knowledge. Microlearning is a great way to make such training less daunting, and more efficient.
Author and L&D specialist Carla Torgerson suggests the following applications for microlearning (“Designing Microlearning”, 2020):
- Preparation: to prepare for a big task or project.
- Follow-up: to update and review learned knowledge.
- Short-form: to obtain knowledge that can be disseminated into short pieces.
- Performance boost: to enhance work performance by gaining skills quickly.
Ideal Applications of Microlearning, by L&D Specialist Carla Torgerson
Now that we’ve understood the best applications of microlearning, let’s look at some best practices to develop a microlearning strategy.
Perspective & Mindset: Cultivate the Right Approach
Like any new path, microlearning also requires the right mindset. Implementing a fresh, new solution like microlearning has a higher chance of success when the right approach and perspective are in place.
- Have a roadmap: Before jumping into strategy and design, focus on learning, and exploring, and getting educated on microlearning. Understand what this new approach requires, and establish a roadmap to implement it.
- Be flexible: Microlearning is an entirely different method of training. This entails a trial-and-error process before a proper structure can be finalized. New ideas require experimentation and exploration, and this journey will take time. Embrace the unconventionality of this solution and be open-minded to the changes it will bring.
- Build micro-moments: The brief pieces of content that employees view repeatedly create what Google calls “micro-moments” — “intent-rich moments when decisions are made, and preferences shaped”. Mini-courses still need employees to devote time and energy for completion, but microlearning creates multiple “intent-rich micro-moments” throughout employees’ days. This is because short videos, PDFs, and other microlearning formats are quick and easy to review, creating intentional engagement with the learning material.
- Design with employee motivation as a major objective: The main objective of implementing a strategy like microlearning is to motivate employees to develop their knowledge and skills. When employees are more motivated towards their training, it is likely to be more effective. Higher motivation will not only lead to higher retention, but will also inspire employees to take initiative and learn more about the subject. Therefore, it is important to keep employee motivation in mind when designing a microlearning strategy.
Embrace the unconventionality of microlearning solutions, and be open-minded to the changes it entails. Design with employee motivation as a major objective, and focus on creating intentional learning.
Now, with the right perspective and mindset, let us further explore the best way to design an effective microlearning course.
How to Design an Effective Microlearning Course?
- Define learning objectives: The first step to creating any strategy is to define the major objectives. This applies to microlearning, too. Understanding the overarching goals of the training program will ensure that the microlearning strategy contributes to a specific purpose. Assess which topics can benefit employees and help them achieve organizational goals. This will also help instructional designers stay connected to the L&D goals as they craft the microlearning programs.
- Make it relatable: The key to a successful microlearning course is to make it relatable to employees. The content should be written and designed in a way that connects to employees’ everyday situations. For example, explaining the application of lessons in problems that may arise everyday. This not only makes learning effective, but also engaging and fun.
- Create a text-based or image-based content map: A content map visually guides employees through the course content. This view of all the training material in a structured way enables them to choose the courses they want to focus on, and pursue them at their own pace.
- Decide the mode of delivery: Microlearning modules can be delivered using various mediums, from video-based lessons to text-based lessons. Choose the right set of mediums depending on the learning objective and profile of learners.
- Create learning goals to track progress: Training programs need to be divided by milestones for a better structure. These milestones are important learning goals for employees to achieve. This will help employees and managers monitor progress. This helps identify the skills learned in each step of the course, as well as gain insight into the individual learning agility of each employee.
- Create the course content: When it’s time to start creating the course materials, start with a strong course outline. This includes topics, sub-topics, and relevant information. For the content pieces, ensure all important information is covered across the individual materials.
- Evaluate: Evaluation is an important step, as it confirms the content is clear and concise. Run checks on the content and delivery mechanisms, and smoothen out any glitches or errors. Test the content before releasing it, i.e. take feedback on first drafts, run sample tests on quizzes, etc., and use the data to assess the effectiveness of the program.
How to Design an Effective Microlearning Course
It is also essential to learn about some best practices for microlearning content creation and delivery. Keeping these points in mind will make it easier to design effective content for employees and improve learning outcomes.
Top 12 Practices for Microlearning Content Design & Implementation
1. Provide context: As microlearning information is dispersed in various small parts, it is crucial to provide context for the learning content. This involves outlining the goal and motivation behind the content, so employees understand the potential applications of this knowledge. This way, they can better relate to it and understand the learning material.
2. Connect the microlearning strategy to broader organizational goals: An organization is only as strong as its people. So, employee training becomes essential in businesses. However, because microlearning is a new and intricate approach to adopt, it is easier to lose focus. To keep employees on track, explain how their new training will help them achieve personal and company goals. This provides the big picture to focus on and also enhances their feeling of personal contribution to the company.
3. Schedule content to avoid information overload: With the multitude of content pieces involved in a microlearning module, getting crushed under them is practically unavoidable. This can be managed by timing content delivery to avoid information overload. Maintain a content calendar to plan the pieces to be released, and also notifies employees about what needs to be done and when.
4. Make microlearning content enjoyable to read and understand: The goal of microlearning strategies is to make learning enjoyable and entertaining. Even for employees who are not initially enthusiastic, microlearning might encourage them to become more engaged. Make sure the training material is enjoyable to read and intriguing to employees. To captivate employees, use vibrant graphics, appealing layouts, and experiment with new and interesting media such as scenarios, podcasts, and video!
5. Use mobile delivery: People nowadays conduct their daily lives on smartphones. So, take advantage of the convenience and accessibility of mobile devices to bring training content directly to employees’ fingertips. Use an app that houses a content library, allowing employees to readily access training materials whenever required. We routinely see 90% of the users access RapL delivered lessons only using their mobile phones.
6. Understand the audience: Do some research on employees’ interests, before developing a microlearning approach. Send out a few questions in surveys, arrange some in-person meetings, and figure out what will make the material most engaging. For example, a company has a plan to start a mini eBook series on packaging design tips. However, it turns out that only 25% of their employees are avid readers. This knowledge is helpful, because now an alternative format is available for learners. This could save a considerable amount of time and money. An effective medium here could be a short video series on packaging design, instead of an eBook series.
7. Provide scenario-based lessons: A scenario-based approach to microlearning yields the best results. It challenges employees to think critically about real-life situations that could arise on the job. This improves the competence of individuals by enhancing their foundational, behavioral, and knowledge skills. The image below shows a scenario-based quiz about “SMART Goals” on the RapL app. The multiple-choice format (MCQ) allows learners to choose answers easily, which tests their knowledge in a quick and effective manner. The tracker at the top of the screen shows the number of questions remaining, allowing the learner to monitor the progress and time.
Scenario-based Quiz on a mobile device
Confidence level is measured with each question
Rationales are provided for all answers to instantly correct knowledge gaps
8. Focus on social learning: As research by Mustafa, 2017 suggests, peer-to-peer learning has always resulted in quicker and better outcomes. This combined with microlearning is a powerful tool to achieve substantial learning outcomes. Microlearning can be a highly social tool with employees, because they can share how they applied the microlearning nuggets at work.
Research suggests that peer-to-peer learning has always resulted in quicker and better outcomes. Microlearning can be a highly social tool with employees, because they can discuss how they used the microlearning nuggets for their work. Scenarios, surveys, assignments, quick polls, short videos, etc., can make the training more interactive. Using a gamified model can also help harness the power of social learning by encouraging healthy, friendly competition.
9. Personalize content delivery: The content delivered to employees must be based on various factors, such as competency level, learning agility, assessment scores, previous modules attempted and completed, etc. This will help them understand their own learning patterns, so they can continue to improve their skills with time.
10. Gamify the program: Human beings are naturally competitive. Scoring stimulates their desire to perform well. This results in higher engagement, which is critical to the success of any corporate training program. Add leaderboards, badges, and other fun game-like elements to the training program to make it fun and engaging.
RapL Team Leaderboard – Gamified Social Learning Model
The above image shows the Leaderboard system on the RapL platform, which ranks different departments according to their collective scores in the quizzes. The rank is updated everyday on the basis of points. Badges are awarded to teams based on their scores, too.
11. Track employees’ progress: A necessity to any growth matrix is evaluation and feedback. The same holds true for an employee’s journey of learning. A microlearning app should provide the learner with a detailed understanding of how much knowledge they have gained since the inception of their microlearning course, and how much they have yet to grow.
12. Use insight and data to improve the program: In-built analytics provide user data on the microlearning training program. Insights such as engagement rates, materials accessed, time required, etc. can serve as real-time feedback. These points can be incorporated into the next round of training. For example, if 60% of employees are opening the same scenarios multiple times, that could mean they are struggling with that topic. Additional reference material, questions, etc., related to that topic can be shown on their screens. This way, they can easily access these new materials and gain a deeper understanding of the topic.
Microlearning uses several formats to distribute information in small bursts. The general style of microlearning content is defined by the use of relatable and simple language, visual aids, gamification elements, and interactive assets. Let us explore the following formats of microlearning content to boost employee engagement.
Microlearning Formats to Explore for Higher Engagement
- Infographics: Infographics, as the name implies, present key points in a concise format with appealing graphics. This not only makes it more visually appealing, but also allows employees to better absorb and visualize the information. Infographics are useful for quickly and effectively teaching new employees about corporate policies, rules, and much more.
- Short documents: Short (perhaps one-page) documents in easily readable PDF format can be shared and accessed from virtually any location. These are ideal for expressing more information than infographics, with a similar aesthetic appeal.
- Scenario driven Quiz: Interactive quizzes are an interesting way to test employees’ knowledge. Challenging questions will get them to put their thinking caps on, and a badge system can reward them for getting questions right. This will make the testing system fun, and keep employees motivated.
- Assignments: Projects and assignments will compel employees to apply their newly-learned skills to a practical scenario. This is a great way for them to see how the training will help them in their everyday work. Sometimes learners can also work in pairs or small teams to work together and submit their joint work for the assignments.
- Assessments: Regular assessments will ensure employees test themselves and stay on track. Using intriguing questions will stimulate their thinking and compel them to recall or review the material.
- Surveys: Periodic surveys will help determine how employees are faring in their new training. It helps analyze their thoughts about the new formats and topics. The trainers and leaders can use the data to keep improving the material and training.
- Polls: Polls are an interesting way to test employees on what they have learned. Structure the questions in a fun way and provide two challenging options to choose from.
- Podcasts: Employees can listen to podcasts while out on a morning exercise or during the commute to their office. Podcasts on soft skills, sales strategies, emerging trends, etc. are just a few of the many things that employees can listen to and learn from.
- Videos: Short videos are the best way to learn something new. Combining visual and auditory aids creates the most engaging format of microlearning. Many content creators, for example, are leveraging platforms like Instagram to create short vertical films that are up to a minute in duration (called ‘Reels’). Creators utilize this entertaining video experience to convey their ideas on various themes. The most prevalent material on Reels includes money management advice, interview tips, email etiquette for business, and much more. This is an excellent example of using short films for learning and education.
- Blogs: Blog articles are a blend of modern and traditional ways of learning. There is text to read and understand, but it is presented in a concise digital format. This form of microlearning works best when employees need something they need to learn in some detail, but quickly.
- Apps / Games: Exciting ways to provide employees an immersive learning experience are to use interactive quizzes, games, and leaderboards. Employees can earn badges by engaging in friendly competition. Designing game elements in the microlearning experience will nudge participants in healthy rivalry that raises the collective bar.
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