A primer on the many examples of microlearning
Whether you know it or not, you are micro learning everyday.
That Google search which led you here, or that Youtube ‘how-to’ recipe video you shared with your mother over the weekend are routine examples of Microlearning in action.
Here are some common examples of pervasive microlearning that touch multiple life tangents. Like sharing your weekly goals over email, getting reminded to drink that glass of water over text and checking out the company Wiki to download an SOP sheet.
But what makes these seemingly simple actions fall under the purview of microlearning – simply because you wanted to either gain, or, spread knowledge around a very focussed area of learning. Not just that, you wanted it to be short, crisp, and focussed for better retention.
Isn’t it fascinating that the topic you have been diligently researching upon has wittingly or unwittingly threaded you as a participant already?
‘If microlearning is so divergently multi-dimensional, how do I define it?’
Serious research on microlearning is a recent phenomenon. Most academic investigation around the concept started around 2005. Only after the success of microlearning platforms like Khan Academy and YouTube, mainstream attention was directed towards understanding the concept in better detail.
Since microlearning is still an emerging paradigm, there is no consensus on a single, unilateral definition. However, some consolidation has taken shape around the defining characteristics of a microlearning agenda.
Characteristic 1: Microlearning is the creation of new information units that would otherwise be an insignificant detail in macro learning
Traditional learning mental models have relied overly on a macro learning ethos, one in which multiple high-level concepts are baked into one module for a sweeping overview.
While there are many use cases that warrant a macro learning approach (sharing an ‘annual strategy review’ memo with an entourage of Vice Presidents?), there are tons of use cases that are more grounded in execution best practices which warrant a microlearning strategy.
For example, retail storefront Standard Operating Procedures. These checklists are rooted in compliances, ethical practices, and customer excellence principles. A macro learning approach to reinforcing these procedures would normally manifest itself in a 5 or 6 slides presentation with a bulleted list of items.
However, in microlearning, each checklist point is transformed into a dedicated course unit for better engagement and retention.
Here’s a 3 min lesson on how to deal with irate customers. This is the prime example of converting a boring slides into a video that comes alive with vivid pointers on how to deal with angry customers when retail associates bump into them.
A corporate video coaching their sales representatives in the art of dealing with irate customers. Under 3 mins, this video is a prime example of microlearning for work.
Characteristic 2: Microlearning is best suited when learners need to consume and retain large amounts of information
A snapshot of the many micro-chapters under Pivot Tables, over Lynda.com. When a subject matter consists of multiple concepts to be applied together, microlearning can be a favored strategy
This right here, is one of the core decision making vectors for making a microlearning case – does the subject matter have a lot of concepts that need to be learnt together for thorough understanding?
If yes, microlearning is the way forward.
Characteristic 3: Microlearning is geared for consumption that lets learners choose the time, place, and pace of learning
Unlike macro learning initiatives that transpire in a facilitated manner with a preconfigured agenda, a place to learn and trainers to assist, micro learning is the polar opposite. Microlearning comes to the learner’s aid when they are looking for it, over the medium they want and at a time of their choosing.
This means that microlearning content is mobile-first, easily accessible and has a near infinite shelf life. These essentials are a big reason why there is a flurry of microlearning software populating the learning and development landscape.
Modern applications allow instructional designers to create bite sized content across many formats. A cloud-native infrastructure lends the flexibility to retrieve courses as and when needed. Lastly, device agnostic content facilitates easy consumption across multiple screen types.
All Pervasive Microlearning Examples
The premise of capsuled, focussed content that helps learners master singular concepts is a strong pull for multi-dimensional microlearning applications.
Not just corporations, microlearning is favored by educational institutions and governments alike for behavioral and cognitive shifts at scale. From helping entire nations treat HIV patients using SMS to knowledge transfer for cost control in real estate projects, microlearning encompasses a full spectrum of use cases.
Documenting all real world examples of microlearning is subject matter for a dedicated book; here we highlight just some of the many ways in which it’s making a difference.
Example 1: Microlearning as a continuous learning driver in IT operations
Blue Label Telecoms, a telecommunications hardware company in South Africa, married treasure hunts and microlearning for gamified learning experiences.
Having realized that their young IT workforce was not getting enough time to upgrade their programming skills, they embarked on an office treasure hunt that involved QR codes, memes, and games, all with one mission – to engage learners in bite sized learning opportunities.
Example 2: Improving War Fighting capabilities for Air Assault units in the US Army
If you thought microlearning was a favorite of corporations and schools alone, it is time for the US Army to hand their beers to you!
Using microlearning to observe if the Air Assault units scored higher in their assessments and attrition, it was discovered that the group subject to microlearning interventions outscored the control group by 13%
Here’s the link to the study.
Example 3: Toyota standardizes SOP training for 3000 sales reps
Toyota, the automobile giant, uses microlearning as a part of their onboarding and continuous learning process for their 1000s of sales representatives in India.
Their goal is simple – consistent brand experiences across all customer touch points. This consistency can only be achieved if all reps. are equally proficient in product knowledge, solutioning and addressing concerns like a familiar friend.
Ensuring that Standard Operating Procedures are distributed in agile ways with gamified formats for peak engagement is their microlearning charter.
Example 4: Using microlearning content in training by the purchase department at a global manufacturing company
Chances are that if a learning program is introduced as ‘voluntary participation’, few folks would prioritize it over their daily goals.
So when we read that a microlearning-first approach got 1200 learners hooked to a voluntary learning program, we were pleasantly amazed to investigate the mechanics.
This case study lays it bare. The nuances are many, but here’s the TL / DR – at a global manufacturing giant, participants were not adhering to a new purchase and material acquisition playbook. The reasons were dense content without summarized extensions and no easy ways to search for the playbook when the need arose.
The L&D team split the massive playbook into one animation per topic with no animation being more than 12 minutes. Once they absorbed the content, they were directed to a fun infographic that encapsulated the summary of the lesson. To help with spaced reinforcement, periodic emails were shared along with the same infographics.
Not just that, each infographic nudged participants to speak with different department leaders who were co-actors in the business process related to the subject matter. Sharing their learning with others strengthened the participants’ learning. Better reinforcement also became possible.
What started as an experiment with a few purchase heads snowballed into a company wide movement that enmeshed 1200 participants in the learning web.
Here’s the link to the case study (Case study starts at page 21)
Driving everyday success through microlearning
These 4 examples are just some of the more inspirational real world case studies of how forward thinking L&D teams are weaving microlearning in their goals.
In the everyday realm of life, Ted Talks, Khan Academy, Duolingo, YouTube and Twitter are just some examples of everyday microlearning. On the other hand, enterprises generally go for tools like RapL, that specialize in the creation and delivery of micro courses and offer detailed individual and group learning analytics. These analytics play the role of informers that lay bare the organization’s learning index for each topic that’s key to their business functioning so that there could be org-wide change.
Like we stated at the beginning of the article, you’ve been microlearning since you gained consciousness, in some way or the other; just that you now have a label to it.
Till next time, keep microlearning!