What is Microlearning and Why Should You Invest in It?


In this digital age, one quality people have come to look for in much of their content is brevity. It isn’t simply that people have developed a short attention span – oftentimes workers and students are looking for ways to fit things into a busy and frequently interrupted schedule. Content that can be consumed on during a commute, on breaks, or in between caring for a family is easier to concentrate on, finish, and remember than something that is longer and more dense. It’s also easier to convince a reluctant learner by presenting them with something that can be completed quickly. These factors are helping to popularize microlearning in both academic and corporate contexts.

What is microlearning?

Microlearning involves small, easily digestible courses that can generally be consumed in about 1-5 minutes. Content can come in many forms, such as videos, handouts, or infographics. Modules may be related to each other in order to build up knowledge on a specific topic or they can be single lessons that aren’t part of a larger plan, but either way, each one is self-contained. Not only are these modules simpler to fit into a busy day, they also tend to be easy to access regardless of location, via phone or other mobile device. This makes them useful to consult on the job when not at a desk, or at other times when the user doesn’t have access to a computer.

Is microlearning effective?

There are many benefits to microlearning. For the casual user, it can be a good introduction to a topic, providing basic understanding of something the learner was unfamiliar with. It can also be a jumping-off point to more thorough study, raising interest in the subject and providing a foundation upon which to build.

Microlearning is also good for reinforcing knowledge from longer lessons. Without reinforcement, a lot of what we learn in a lesson is quickly forgotten. Repetition helps cement new information into our long-term memory, so having small, brief courses that reiterate previous content is a good way to make sure we retain what we’ve learned. This is applicable to both academic and corporate learning, whether the lessons are from a semester-long course or a day of professional development.

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Another way microlearning can be used in the workplace is to teach or reinforce key concepts, such as safe equipment operation or how to create a strong presentation. It can be deployed ahead of when the information will be needed, such as in preparation for new duties or new situations, or seasonally for something like working in winter conditions or dealing with higher than usual volumes of work or people. It can also be used in response to a problem, such as workers not following proper safety procedures, or assigned to individuals based on areas they might need to improve. Short, specific lessons can be a good way to promote continuing education and professional growth, as they’re much easier to integrate into the workday than full courses are.

Microlearning is also a useful way for managers to build up a collection of resources on a variety of subjects, allowing them to have information on hand when it’s needed. This benefits both them and their employees, since a knowledge base that’s accessible by everyone allows workers to seek out information proactively when they think they need it, rather than relying on a supervisor to provide it to them. This also makes it easy for someone to consult lessons they’ve already read or viewed if they need a refresher.

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What are the downsides to microlearning?

It’s important to note that microlearning isn’t suited for deep and thorough study on a topic. It’s meant for learning a specific concept or providing a broad overview of something. A series of 5-minute lessons isn’t going to be a good way to learn a language, dive into a country’s history, or pick up a trade. Microlearning won’t replace longer lessons and courses. For complex concepts and extended study, microlearning alone won’t be enough.

Using a series of small lessons in place of one longer lesson can also make the experience feel disjointed, and not do as good a job of getting across a coherent message. While discrete lessons can be very useful, it’s also important to build on prior lessons in order to build up knowledge and to remember it. A series of microlearning modules therefore needs to find a balance between standing alone and relating to the overarching subject.

Microlearning also needs to be deployed properly and followed up on in order to be truly effective. If a manager assigns a lesson to an employee but never checks in after the fact, it’s impossible to judge the effectiveness of the lesson or make sure that the employee has followed through. If the lesson wasn’t helpful, it’s important to determine why not and to figure out how the problem can be addressed. Additionally, managers need to be specific when assigning microlearning – it’s not enough to tell someone to look up information on a general topic. The employee might not have enough context to know exactly what they’re meant to be learning, or to evaluate the quality of a particular resource. The manager should ensure that the employee has solid material to work from.

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The right tool for the job

When it’s used well, microlearning can be an invaluable tool in both the classroom and the workplace, as well as for casual learners. It’s becoming increasingly popular as a learning method, and at a time when skillsets become out of date quite rapidly, it’s a good way to manage employee development and stay current in one’s field. With career development being a priority for many workers, microlearning is also a useful way for organizations to improve employee retention, as it can be cost-effective and customizable to individual needs. E-learning as a whole is becoming increasingly popular, and microlearning offers an accessible way to try out the wealth of online courses that are available to users around the world.

Discover more about the global e-learning industry with Technavio’s market research report, including:

  • CAGR of the market during the forecast period 2020-2024
  • Detailed information on factors that will drive e-learning market growth during the next five years
  • Precise estimation of the e-learning market size and its contribution to the parent market
  • Accurate predictions on upcoming trends and changes in consumer behavior
  • The growth of the e-learning market industry across APAC, Europe, MEA, North America, and South America
  • A thorough analysis of the market’s competitive landscape and detailed information on vendors
  • Comprehensive details of factors that will challenge the growth of e-learning market vendors