Getting Started With Microlearning In Your Organization

Photo of a microscope with an illustrated graduation cap being placed on the tray using tweezers.
July 7, 2020
13 minutes
Photo of a microscope with an illustrated graduation cap being placed on the tray using tweezers.

It’s easy to see the appeal of microlearning.

After all, small content means quick learning which means cost savings, right? And depending on where you’re getting your information, it can seem like it’s being touted as the solution to almost every training problem.

Like most things in the learning and development world, though, microlearning is one tool of many that we should have at our disposal. When used well, it really can mean small content can have big effects for your organization.

So, what do you need to know and do to achieve those big effects from microlearning?

What is microlearning and what is it good for?

Probably the place to start when planning how you can use microlearning in your organization is to understand what microlearning is and what it isn’t.

Spend some time on Internet searches for microlearning and you’ll quickly see that “microlearning” gets used in many ways, trying to mean many things.

We spoke with Shannon Tipton on Instructional Designers in Offices Drinking Coffee a while back and talked about exactly that: what microlearning is, and what microlearning isn’t.

Shannon sees microlearning as short, independent content that solves a specific problem. And she contrasts that with the idea of shorter courses loaded into your learning management system. As she describes it, microlearning is more effective when used in a performance support or just-in-time mode rather than formal learning.

She also sees microlearning as independent of any specific format or media type. It could be web-based or it could be paper based, if those are useful ways pf putting information into the hands of a learner at the time of need. It could be video or it could be a text document or PDF.

The key to success with microlearning, like any job aid or performance support tool, is to make access to it as easy as possible, to reduce the friction of accessing the content. After all, if someone has a problem, the last thing you want is to put barriers in place for them to access the solution to that problem.    

And, she adds, perfection can be the enemy when trying to start with microlearning. It’s more valuable to have something available to help people, even if it isn’t perfect. You can always improve it, based on feedback.

Shannon had a lot more to say, including how to evaluate microlearning. Plus, the chat forum had attendees sharing ideas of their own as well, so you might want to check out the archive of the complete session here.

Can Microlearning Serve as Formal Learning?

Shannon is bang on that microlearning is ideal for helping solve problems and is a great approach for just-in-time learning or even performance support.

But does that mean it can’t serve as formal learning at all?

For a lot of organizations, the apparent appeal of microlearning is the shortness, seen as time savings. After all, if you can teach someone something in 5 minutes rather than an hour, that translates into cost savings for the organization.

But it’s nowhere near as simple as that, when you start looking at best practices for using microlearning as formal learning.

If you’re taking a one-hour elearning course and chunking it into six 10-minute courses that are all linked in your LMS, then you really aren’t using microlearning. In fact, this approach can even work against the learning process.

There are many things that need a fair amount of time to be taught, and breaking the teaching into smaller chunks can often be a disruption in the learning process. If someone takes a week between 10-minite lessons, have they retained the first lesson well enough to even move on the second lesson?

But there definitely are ways that you can definitely use microlearning in formal learning.

A great use case is as part of a planned program using spaced repetition by providing short microlearning opportunities over time to help your learners move information and skills from short term memory into long-term memory.

We’ve put together some other critical considerations for using microlearning in a formal learning context here.

OK, Let’s Put Microlearning To Work

So, you’ve now got a good handle on what microlearning is and what it’s good for. It’s time to start putting it into action in your organization.

What’s your first step?

A good first step is to take a look at the type of problem you are trying to solve. Carla Torgerson, who co-wrote Designing Microlearning with Sue Iannone, offers us a great and pretty simple framework for this, suggesting we ask six questions about our content.

Here are the six questions:

  • Is it compliance related?
  • Is the learner interested in the content, like new hires?
  • Is it covered in-depth somewhere else?
  • Is it likely to be forgotten when needed?
  • Is it related to a change for the learner?
  • Is it important that it be top of mind or never forgotten?

These six questions really identify six potential problems to solve for your organization. And if, as you look at a particular content topic, the answer is yes to one of these questions, then microlearning could be a good fit.

But that doesn’t mean there’s one microlearning approach that will fit all of these different problems. In our conversation on IDIODC Carla walked through use cases of how microlearning could be used to address each of these problems, and of course we had great input in the chat as well so it’s probably worth checking out the full archive of this episode.

Carla also joined us on IDIODC for a follow up session on microlearning, this time focusing on microlearning formats and digging deeper into ways to use those formats to solve specific types of problems.

By formats, Carla means the type of media content, from simple text to more elaborate productions like elearning content and even podcasts.

And she delved into more use cases for putting those different formats to work for your organization as both informal learning like performance support as well as formal learning, especially as part of a continuum of learning experiences including pre-work ahead of a formal learning experience and post-work following a formal learning activity.

As a bonus we also discussed ways to talk to your stakeholders and management team to help them understand how a microlearning approach can help your organization. After all, microlearning can be a different approach than what most organizations currently do for training, and change may not always be easy. The session chat also offered a lot of great ideas and input, and you can check out the archive of the full session here.

So Why Does an Elearning Authoring Tool Company Care About Microlearning?

We’ve created a collection of resources related to microlearning in our dominKnow Community site that you might also find helpful.

It includes a few more IDIODC episodes on microlearning besides the ones we’ve included above. It also has some content samples that are good examples of microlearning, including infographics, tutorials and even comics.

dominKnow | ONE is a bit different than most elearning authoring tool options, and that’s because we have always had a different perspective on elearning itself.

Sure, we can help you make SCORM packages for uploading into your LMS.

But we can also publish out standalone content packages that are ideal for just-in-time learning or performance support, two excellent uses of microlearning. After all, there’s not much value in an infographic or a searchable knowledge base if it’s locked away in an LMS when the learner needs to access it.

Our two authoring options, Claro for traditional slides-based elearning and Flow for modern responsive-design-based learning experiences, mean you can make just about any type of web-based learning experience you can imagine.

Oh, and our Capture feature for software lessons, in addition to creating Show Me, Try Me and Guide Me options from a single lesson also automatically creates a downloadable PDF job aid as well.

Plus, dominKnow | ONE makes it easy to re-purpose content quickly.

If you’ve created a formal elearning course for new hires learning a new role, you’ve also created a lot of content that can help them after they’ve completed the course in the LMS and are now trying to carry out the tasks that come with their role.

In dominKnow | ONE, you can make content topics once and share them across multiple projects, like both a SCORM-based elearning course and a searchable knowledge base – and keep them synchronized for content changes and updates. This means more value and benefit from your content for both your learners and your organization.

If any of this sounds interesting, you can take dominKnow | ONE for a test drive by signing up for a free trial or requesting a demo where we can dig deeper into how it can help you bring microlearning to your organization.