Microlearning: are you doing it right?

What microlearning is (and what it isn’t)

By Tim Harnett

Microlearning. Everyone’s talking about it, and it’s been hailed as a “great way to reinforce knowledge,”¹ “an antidote to the abundance and complexity of information”² and “so important”³ to navigating the changing world of work.

But is microlearning just the newest learning trend? Or is it an idea with long-term value?

What it is: At its heart, microlearning is a strategy that facilitates single concept learning. It’s a modern approach to workplace learning, designed to deliver targeted lessons within an employee’s workflow. Microlearning doesn’t replace traditional learning strategies, but rather complements them by providing learning opportunities to upskill employees in the moment of need.

What it isn’t: Microlearning isn’t simply big content broken down into little content, e.g., a 20-minute video edited into four five-minute sections. Instead, each microlearning lesson is a distillation of a single idea or concept, resulting in a learning opportunity that is self-contained and complete.

“It’s not the size of the lesson, it’s the size of the idea.”
— Summer Salomonsen, chief learning officer, Grovo

Why microlearning — and why now?

Rapidly evolving technology is changing the way people work — and increasing the need for knowledge and skills that will enable people to do that work well. Yet today’s employee has even less time to learn on the job: a mere 4.8 minutes each day, less than 1 percent of the work week.⁴

Because microlearning is concise, practical and empowering, it’s a powerful tool for delivering relevant training to busy — and often distracted — employees. Each short lesson is focused on one concept, takes under four minutes to complete and enables employees to quickly upskill in the moment of need. Microlearning also appeals to millennial employees, who will make up 50 percent of the workforce by 2020.

How microlearning benefits organizations and employees

According to research by Aberdeen, 60 percent of best-in-class companies are more likely than all others to see microlearning as “effective for employee development.”⁵ These companies already know that microlearning offers benefits beyond enabling fast, relevant delivery of training.⁶

What can microlearning do for your organization?

  • Make learning more engaging. Studies show microlearning is 58 percent more engaging than traditional training.
  • Increase completion rates. In contrast to traditional training, 97 percent of microlearning assignments are completed.⁷
  • Increase concept retention. In 1885, psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus estimated 80 percent of learned content is lost after a mere 30 days. Yet repetition and relevance can radically increase concept stickiness. Microlearning is both relevant, as it’s delivered within the flow of work, and repetitive, as learners can repeat the lessons at will.
  • Meet the modern employee’s need for flexibility. Microlearning is accessible in the flow of work, at precisely the moment of need. When microlearning opportunities are made mobile, employees can access training on a break between meetings, while waiting for a client or after a call.
  • Save learner time. Microlearning lessons are concise and highly targeted, so employees don’t have to waste time deciphering important takeaways — and can instead focus solely on learning.
  • Save resources. Because it is the distillation of a single idea or one skill, microlearning content takes less time (and money) to create and can be developed and launched up to 300 percent faster than traditional learning.⁸

Getting Started with Microlearning

For organizations looking to use microlearning as part of their L&D strategy, Summer Salomonsen, chief learning officer at Grovo, suggests the following three steps:

1Start small. Rigorously identify the problem, skill gap or behavioral issue that is holding your organization back. Create lessons built around only one concept per lesson. Next, begin analyzing what skill (or skills) need to be learned by employees to solve that problem.

2Stay focused. You have a limited amount of time in which to convey an important topic; consider how to weight parts of the lesson most effectively. Make sure each point is focused on driving your ideal outcome, i.e., enabling the employee to learn the new skill or concept. Beware of scope creep and stay focused on one concept at a time.

3Make it stick. Make sure content can be continually practiced and reinforced to drive real change through repetition.

Like what you read and want to learn more? Watch the webinar “Microlearning – Are You Doing it Right?”.

1 Omer, A. (2017). Use microlearning when learning reinforcement Is critical. Training Industry.
2 Shank, P. (2018). Microlearning, macrolearning. What does research tell us? eLearning Industry.
3 Bersin, J. (2018). The disruption of digital learning: ten things we have learned.
4 Bersin by Deloitte. Leading in learning: building capabilities to deliver on your business strategy.
5 Lahey, Z. (2016). From learning to knowledge: best-in-class methods for enabling employees to propel the business forward. Aberdeen Group. p.1.
6 Cornerstone OnDemand. (2018). Microlearning – are you doing it “right”? Webinar.
7 https://www.grovo.com/can-help/build-a-culture-of-learning
8 Cornerstone OnDemand. (2018). Microlearning – are you doing it “right”? Webinar.

Cornerstone OnDemand (NASDAQ: CSOD) is pioneering solutions to help organizations realize the potential of the modern workforce. As the global leader in cloud-based learning and human capital management software, Cornerstone is designed to enable a lifetime of learning and development that is fundamental to the growth of employees and organizations. www.cornerstoneondemand.com