This article details the use of microlearning as an L&D solution in workplaces. It explains the scientific theory behind the effectiveness of microlearning, as well as the benefits of microlearning as an L&D strategy. This article also explores the various interactive digital formats in which learning content can be delivered to employees. We will also look at the challenges involved in using microlearning for employee training, and best practices to ensure success.
In recent times, there has been an increased chatter about microlearning. It is an exciting, unconventional method of learning that has grasped the world’s attention. From Instagram Reels about financial management tips to video tutorials about DIY home repairs, there seems to be a quick and easy way to learn anything you want to know, in just a few clicks.
There are chances you’re reading this article because you want a similar solution for training your employees. A simple approach that engages them with their training, and keeps them motivated. This simple solution does exist. Implementing microlearning at the workplace can be an ideal answer to your training needs.
As a solution that applies to various types of workplaces, microlearning is suited to both corporate and manufacturing sectors. From sales, marketing, production processes and shop-floor operations, microlearning can be used in many different training scenarios. For example, video tutorials on better content design are excellent for marketing training. A short eBook or quiz is great to train new factory workers on a company’s production process. This shows that microlearning can be a successful training solution wherever you need it.
One of the biggest questions in our fast-paced world is how to balance the need for continuous learning and the constraint of a time crunch. Microlearning solves this problem. Information is delivered in “bite-sized” pieces that can be consumed within five and fifteen minutes. Well-crafted and well-edited, these pieces of content are easily digestible and often, even a pleasure to lap up. All the food references above can tell you one thing: microlearning can be done easily, even during coffee breaks (it may even make your employees less inclined to chit-chat in the break room).
What is Microlearning?
Microlearning is a learning paradigm that concurs with the laws of human attention. It involves distilling and dividing complex topics into short units of content that can be viewed or read from anywhere, and at any time. Study materials for microlearning are created to be consumed typically within five minutes, allowing the learner to access the material wherever and whenever necessary.
Microlearning Theory: Why is it effective?
Microlearning is based on the theory of the ‘Forgetting Curve’, which was the result of Hermann Ebbinghaus’ studies on human memory. German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus wanted to understand memory, and specifically the reason human beings forget things. For his experiments, he used a list of random syllables, which he would try to remember at different times. His findings gave him insight into how memory is strengthened, and one tends to forget less. Ebbinghaus’ studies led him to conclude the following:
- Relevant or engaging concepts are more easily retained: If it is difficult to stay awake during a class or lecture, chances are it will be challenging to recall what is taught. This, however, will change if the concept is highly engaging. It’s much easier to retain relevant and interesting concepts.
- Memory reduces with time: Re-learning concepts continuously boost memory. Retention tends to be higher with repeated revisions. Thus, repeatedly reviewing learning content is important to ensure that it does not eventually fade from memory.
- Physiological factors affect learning: Sleep, stress, and other physiological aspects of today’s lifestyle greatly affect our memory. This is because these factors have a strong effect on the brain and its functioning, which in turn impacts learning and retention abilities.
- Presentation is integral to effective learning: When concepts are presented in an organized and understandable format, it is easier to learn and recall them. This is because it is easier for the mind to comprehend and assimilate information when presented neatly.
Ebbinghaus’ findings led to the development of the ‘Forgetting Curve’, which illustrates how memory declines over time, and how information can be lost or forgotten when it is not continuously re-learned.
Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve
As the graph depicts, over 70% of knowledge is lost within three days of learning. Repeated re-learning can solve this problem, which involves several revisions of the study material, done regularly. Microlearning makes this possible. It presents important knowledge in a compact way, often in blogs, articles, and short videos that can be easily viewed on the go. Information obtained in this manner is easy to absorb and review, which in turn increases retention of newly-gained knowledge.
In addition to making the acquisition and retention of information easier, microlearning presents several benefits that can enhance training and development in the workplace. This new and unconventional method of training can make the learning process more enjoyable for your employees.
Let’s look at some real-world applications of microlearning in the workplace, and its influence on employees.
Practical Applications of Microlearning at the Workplace
1. Microlearning Courses Effectively Increased Confidence & Accuracy in the Work of Dairy Personnel.
In recent decades, the dairy sector in the United States has shifted toward larger farms with more cows. This means there are more employees per farm, many of whom are foreign immigrants with little or no farming experience. This leads to obstacles, such as language and communication hurdles, which are worsened by the poor educational backgrounds of most new farmers.
In such cases, it is difficult to train employees in protocols and SOPs. These are essential for consistent processes and high product quality. It is also challenging to ensure standardized management operations, which are critical on these farms to minimize errors.
In 2019, Hesse et al. published a study in the Journal of Dairy Science. Their research tested whether microlearning is the solution to this problem.
A total of 243 farm owners, employees, and veterinarians from 35 farms were invited to take 3 microlearning lessons for colostrum management as a topic. Participants were also required to provide feedback in a survey. The conclusions from the survey were:
- 92% participants accessed the materials within the first course. 90% and 92% accessed the materials of the second and third course respectively
- 59% launched the course in their leisure time. This reinforces a core evolutionary insight: humans are learning machines and are always on a quest to improve their skills. It’s often the medium of learning or content delivery that prevents them from pursuing their learning goals.
- 80% stated they could work more accurately after taking the course
- 76% underestimated the time they would spend on the course
- 89% accessed background information related to the topic, and obtained more knowledge they were otherwise unaware of
- 78% of employees felt more confident after completing the training
These observations indicate high engagement, because a majority of the participants interacted with the course material, and over 50% did so in their leisure time. Additionally, a majority of participants felt the course had benefited them, as they could work more accurately and confidently after taking it.
2. Microlearning in Travel Industry: staying competitive in a rapidly changing environment
One of our customers, a leading Online Travel Agent (OTA), was fighting to stay ahead of the competition. They were adding new product lines at a bustling pace. This meant employees had to be up-to-date with business knowledge and SOPs. With a growing product line and workforce, knowledge management became a challenge.
This is where RapL was brought in: RapL’s model of continuous and personalized learning helped employees remember and implement knowledge in their everyday work. Knowledge delivery was faster, easy to implement, and had lower costs. The continuous learning suite also allowed our customers to deliver conceptual knowledge to their employees in real-time. Educating employees about new product features and services prepared them to hit the ground running. The refresher courses helped them recall business procedures, SOPs, and the code of conduct in a much more effective way.
- Employees spent 30-45 minutes in traditional training. Engaging with 3-5 minutes of micro-courses helped them retain their knowledge better.
- 30+ topics were deployed through the automated training
- 150+ users engaged in 2700+ hours of training and completed more than 450 scenarios
- Periodic surveys with learners indicated that there was an in-depth understanding of knowledge.
Now, let’s look at some benefits of implementing microlearning as an L&D strategy.
Benefits of Microlearning
Some interesting facts about microlearning at the workplace, proven by research:
- The short duration of microlearning content reduces mental fatigue caused by longer lessons. This results in 4x higher engagement rates and better knowledge retention.*
- According to a recent Gallup poll, 58% of employees indicated they would be more motivated to use their company’s online learning tools if the content was in a microlearning format.
Let’s look at some benefits of microlearning below:
- Instant application of knowledge: When faced with a problem, employees can quickly refer to microlearning content and find the information they need. After watching a 2-minute video or reading a short blog, they can instantly apply that knowledge and solve practical problems much more efficiently.
- Increased learner engagement: Microlearning drastically improves learner engagement from about 15% to 90%.* This is because long learning sessions can be difficult for even those with excellent attention spans. People are much more willing to sit through learning or training when they anticipate only having to do so for a brief period. People are often conditioned to focus on information for shorter periods, and microlearning uses this to keep learners engaged. *Source: ThriveMyWay.com
- Self-paced upskilling: By providing information in bite-sized chunks, microlearning eliminates the need to match a predefined structure and speed. Employees can progress at their own pace and review what they want to focus on, without delaying the rest of the learning.
- No more time and productivity constraints: Tight deadlines and productivity goals may also be factors for your employees to put their training courses on the back-burner. They may feel overwhelmed at the sight of hours-long lectures or seemingly endless pages of reading, and may decide to focus instead on their immediate deliverables. Microlearning tackles this by offering quick pieces of content that can be viewed during short breaks, walks, etc., keeping them more engaged in the training, and less intimidated by it.
- Customized learning: Because microlearning uses short pieces of information, it becomes much easier for employees to chart their own learning path. By using material relevant to their job role or problem, they have the flexibility to learn what they need, and when they need it.
- Continued reinforcement: As microlearning content can be viewed quickly and easily at any given time or place, it makes continued reinforcement of knowledge much easier than conventional methods. Employees can refer to the study materials at their convenience, which makes it easier for them to review it as many times as they choose.
Forms / Types of Microlearning Content
Microlearning uses various forms to disseminate information in short pieces. The use of relatable and easy language, visual aids, gamification mechanics, and interactive assets define the general format of microlearning content. Let’s look at some effective forms of microlearning below:
- Infographics: As the name suggests, infographics offer key points in a summarized form, with attractive graphics. Not only does this make it fun to look at, but also allows employees to understand and visualize the information more effectively. This method can be used to quickly teach new employees about company policies, rules, etc.
- One-Pager PDFs: These PDFs can be sent, downloaded, and accessed from anywhere. These are best if you want to go into more detail than infographics, and they have all the visual interest too.
- Quiz: Interactive quizzes are an interesting way to test your 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 your employees motivated.
- Assignments: Projects and assignments will allow your employees to apply their newly-learned skills to a practical scenario. This is a great way for them to see how their training will help them in their everyday work.
- Assessments: Regular assessments will ensure your employees can 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 you determine how your employees are faring in their new training. You can also analyze their thoughts about the new formats, and use the data to keep improving the material.
- Polls: Polls are an interesting way to test your employees on what they have learned. Structure the questions in a fun way, and provide two challenging options to choose from.
- Podcasts: Employees can tune into podcasts on their morning run or on their way to work. Podcasts on communication skills, selling techniques, industry trends, etc. are just a few examples of the many concepts that employees can learn. You can even make your own podcast and send it to employees to 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. For example, many content creators are using platforms such as Instagram to make ‘Reels’ – short, vertical videos that can be up to a minute long. Creators use this engaging and immersive video experience to share their insight on several topics. Most prominently, the content on Reels ranges from financial management advice, tips to succeed in interviews, email etiquette for work, and much more. This is a great example of using short videos for learning and educational purposes.
- Blogs: Blog articles (like this one!) are a blend of modern and traditional ways of learning. There is text to read and understand, but it is presented in a concise manner and a digital format. This form of microlearning works best when your employees need something they need to learn in some detail, but quickly.
- Apps / Games: Interactive quizzes, games, and leaderboards where ‘players’ (employees) can earn badges by engaging in a little friendly competition are fresh and exciting ways to provide an immersive learning experience to employees. Designing game elements in your microlearning experience nudges participants in healthy rivalry that raises the collective bar.
Formats of Microlearning Content
Challenges of Microlearning
While microlearning is gaining traction, it is not without challenges. L&D leaders can make more impact by keeping these challenges in mind while designing the microlearning content and strategies.
- Monitoring, tracking, reporting: An important part of training is tracking the progress of your employees. How many courses they have completed, how they fare in quizzes or tests, how much time they spend on training, how etc. This information sheds light on the effectiveness of the courses and guides future planning of training and development. However, with microlearning, this proves to be an uphill task, as study material is disseminated into several small pieces of content. So, tracking and reporting become time-consuming and cumbersome.
- Unsuitable for in-depth / complex training: Many industries require heavy training for employees to understand complex processes. In some cases, practical supervision is also necessary, especially if specific equipment is used. Microlearning is impractical for such situations, as it does not offer detailed information or practical experience required. For example, learning to operate heavy machinery in factories requires in-depth training and guidance, which bite-sized micro courses will not offer.
- Risk of fragmented learning without proper structure / management: As the training content is divided into several small pieces, it is imperative to structure the modules well. Without a proper order, flow, and delivery mechanism, it will be difficult for employees to navigate through the study material efficiently. This will lead to them learning only bits and pieces of what they see, and eventually becoming demotivated to pursue their learning goals further.
- Risk of confusion in case of poorly designed games: Although games can be exciting, they can be equally confusing and frustrating if not designed well. Game rules and regulations must be easily understandable. The interface must be intuitive, bug-free, and simple. If a learning game or app does not meet these basic requirements, your employees are more likely to abandon it, rather than enjoy it.
- Time-consuming to create microlearning content: It is a paradox that microlearning content is time-consuming to create, but unfortunately, it is true. This is because it takes a lot of time to create the content, but also to plan its flow and structure. Research may be required to understand what would appeal to your employees the most, and instructional design will need to be enhanced to ensure maximum efficiency in training delivery. Existing corporate course material will have to be redesigned and incorporated into the microlearning content, along with the new microlearning assets developed for training purposes.
Best Practices & Do’s-and-Don’ts of Microlearning
Now that we’ve looked at the benefits and challenges of microlearning, it’s essential to learn about some best practices and do’s-and-don’ts. Keeping these points in mind will help you design more effective content for your employees, and ultimately enhance learning outcomes.
- Provide context: Since microlearning content is distributed in several small pieces, it is important to provide context about what is being taught. Essentially, this means describing a purpose and reason for this content, so that your employees understand where they may be required to apply the knowledge. This will help them connect to it, and make more sense of what they’re learning.
- Connect the microlearning strategy to broader organizational goals: An organization’s goals are only met if the employees are equal to the task, and that’s what makes any kind of training an imperative in companies. However, it is easier to lose focus with microlearning, as it is a vast and complex strategy to implement. To ensure your employees stay on course (pun intended), inform them of how their new training is an important stepping stone to achieve organizational goals. This gives them a bigger picture to focus on, strengthening their own purpose in the organization.
- Schedule content to avoid information overload: With the countless pieces of content that come with implementing a microlearning strategy, getting buried under masses of it is almost inevitable. However, this can be avoided by scheduling content deliveries to prevent an information overload. Maintain a content calendar that allows you to schedule the number of pieces released, and also updates your employees so they know exactly what needs to be done and when.
- Make microlearning content enjoyable to read and understand: Microlearning strategies focus on one thing: making the learning experience fun and enjoyable. This is important, because employees will be more motivated and engaged in the training if they’re excited about it. Ensure your training content is fun to read and appeals to your employees. Use bright graphics, attractive layouts, and experiment with new and exciting forms, such as podcasts and video, to capture your employees’ attention.
- Use mobile delivery: These days, people run their lives on smartphones, and it is no secret that the future awaits small screens that hide entire worlds behind them. So, harness the ease and accessibility of mobiles to deliver training content to your employees straight at their fingertips. Use an app that holds the content library from which your employees can easily access the training material, whenever they need it.
- Understand your audience: Before designing your microlearning strategy, do some research about what your employees will be drawn to. Send small questionnaires, have some in-person chats, and understand what will make your content most engaging. For example, if you’re planning to launch a podcast, but you discover that only 30% of your employees actually listen to podcasts, you can save yourself a lot of time and find a format that appeals to the majority.
The table below provides some important do’s and don’ts of microlearning. Be sure to consider these while designing your microlearning strategy, to get the most out of your training modules.
DO Employ an Agile Approach:
An unconventional method of training, such as microlearning, will require you to be open-minded in your approach, but agility spans far beyond mindset in the case of microlearning. Microlearning platforms enable you to receive analytics about what’s working for your employees, and you can use that data to regularly improve the program to be more efficient for them.
DON’T Consider Microlearning A Mini-course:
The small pieces of content viewed by your employees many times a day create what Google calls “micro-moments” — “intent-rich moments when decisions are made, and preferences shaped”. When your employees spend five minutes watching a short training video or reading a two-page course PDF, they intentionally seek out the learning and are actively engaged with it for those few minutes. Mini-courses still require employees to dedicate a chunk of time and energy to complete, while microlearning, on the contrary, enables you to create several “intent-rich micro-moments” in your employees’ days by offering short pieces of training content that they can view whenever they need.
DO Optimize Content Design for Small Screens:
Optimize your microlearning PDFs, images, videos, etc. for viewing on small screens, such as phones and tablets. All content should be in the vertical format to be suitable for phone viewing. Using the appropriate sizes and ensuring high visual quality will create a comfortable and intuitive learning experience. This will allow your employees to enjoy their training by eliminating any possibility of unease and frustration.
DON’T Use Formal Language:
Using formal language will instantly put distance between your employees and your content. Microlearning is meant to be fun and engaging, because that’s what makes learning enjoyable. Using formal language will negate that effect, as it will make things serious. So, use simple language and a sense of humor in the content, and your employees will enjoy themselves as they learn!
DO Adhere to the “Thumb Zone” Rules:
The illustration of “Thumb Zone” (below this table) shows three colors mapped out on the surface of a phone screen: the thumb comfortably reaches green areas. The yellow marks those that would be a stretch for the thumb, but are still manageable. The red shows areas that are almost painful to reach using the thumb. This is an important point to remember when designing content, because if your employees feel your training modules are difficult to navigate, they will not be motivated to pursue the courses. Ensuring they have a comfortable learning experience will help ensure they have an enjoyable one.
DON’T Stick to Just One Form of Content:
As you have read above, there are various types of content forms that you can explore when it comes to microlearning. Podcasts, videos, attractive PDFs, infographics, and many more mediums allow you to provide a wide spectrum of exciting training content. This is important not only to reach all types of learners (some may prefer audio, some may like to read, etc), but also to create variety. Sticking to one form of content will soon become monotonous, and your employees will feel their motivation slipping away long before they realize it.
DO Use Questions to Engage the Learner’s Minds:
Traditional methods of learning involve teaching the concepts before testing the learner on the subject. While this has been the format of choice for decades, new studies show learners are more engaged in learning if they are questioned on a subject prior to being taught. It heightens their curiosity, and so they’re more likely to retain the new information. Use interesting questions to engage your employees, it will keep them on the edge of their seats!
DON’T Use Too Much Jargon:
Excessive use of technical jargon can be daunting for a reader, especially during training. Use only the most important industry-specific terms, and explain any new ones that your employees should know. Besides that, keep the language simple, so that your employees can read and understand your material easily.
This illustration of “Thumb Zone” (above) shows three colors mapped out on the surface of a phone screen. The thumb comfortably reaches green areas, yellow marks areas that would be a stretch for the thumb, but are still manageable, and red shows areas that are painful to reach with the thumb.
Microlearning leaves no scope for the dread of unfinished courses to ruin your evening, and your employees deserve to enjoy the same. Companies across the world have joined the micro-learning club to enhance productivity. At RapL, we are committed to assisting teams like yours to develop and disseminate your micro-courses. Our teams are dedicated to creating high-quality engaging content, and our training platforms will allow your employees to challenge themselves and enjoy their learning! Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’d be thrilled to introduce you to the world of microlearning.