Why everyone is talking about microlearning?

Unless you have been asleep under a rock lately you will have been bombarded with the latest training trend – microlearning. In this article we want to explore a few areas to help clear up some of the confusion out there:

  • Just what is microlearning?

  • Why is it becoming so trendy so quickly?

  • What is involved in microlearning?

  • Why does it seem to be working?

  • Working examples of video microlearning

Just what is microlearning?

Definition of microlearning:

“Small bite sized or micro stand alone pieces of learning content usually 10 minutes or under”  

One of the first misconceptions about microlearning is that you can simply take your current long form learning content and chop it into smaller components and hey presto we have microlearning!  

No, the first thing to understand is that while piece of learning may make up a larger program or course each piece of learning content needs to stand on its own two feet and be complete from start to finish. These individual pieces can then either be used just on their own and make learning sense or linked together they can make up a larger program.

So why do I need microlearning then if I am going to link them together and make a large course again? Good question! The reason is that each ‘lesson or module’ within the longer program still needs to be standalone so it can be jumped straight to, used as a refresher or the learner can come back later if they run out of time and each piece to that point can still be applied with no loss or having to wait to complete the next piece of the puzzle. 

Why is it becoming so trendy so quickly?

If you can imagine the perfect storm then that is what occurred to make microlearning so mainstream. One of the largest catalysts for microlearning becoming so popular was the GFC - global financial crisis.  Why? Because after the GFC organizations’ were left bare with staff numbers shed to the bone, budgets slashed and even less time to complete tasks that were needed to get back on track. Yet staff still needed to be trained and up-skilled - enter microlearning. Short specific bursts of training across a broad range of devices available as and when the learner needed them.

Now couple this with the new generation of learners coming into the workplace who have been raised in the first ever ‘on demand’ generation and all the streaming services they have grown up on such channels as YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Spotify, Hulu, Showtime just to mention a few. Then they come into the workforce are told to sit in a classroom and are talked at for days and we wondered why they left?  

The attention span of the learner has changed as well as the time available to train them so a perfect position for microlearning to pop in and prove its worth. Just to dispel another myth and that’s the drop in attention spans from 12 to 8 seconds and that goldfish now have a longer attention span (9 seconds) than the younger generation, is in fact completely misquoted. If you have been doing any reading on microlearning you may have heard this myth banded around as it helps reinforce microlearning. However upon deeper research this myth has come from a Microsoft study that was misquoted and has now become urban legend.  Here is the real truth behind the legend: https://www.bbc.com/news/health-38896790

While microlearning may seem like a new learning concept, it’s been around for more than a decade and is based on “micro-teaching” that took place in the sixties.

Micro-teaching was first implemented in the education industry as a way to optimize training for new teachers by scaling back on size, time, and content. This laid the groundwork for what we know microlearning as today.

In 2005, the first-ever conference on microlearning was held in Innsbruck, Austria and organized by the Research Studio eLearning Environments and the Institute of Educational Sciences at the University of Innsbruck. The conference sought to bring together the concepts and ground work of micro-teaching and what was being used in higher education and corporate training. The results? What we know microlearning as today.

What is involved in microlearning?

To help give you a simple framework here are the 5 most common aspects for developing microlearning:

1)   Make it short – 10 minutes or under

2)   A single objective in a single sitting

3)   It must stand alone and make sense – imagine Lego blocks

4)   Make it interactive so learners are engaged

5)   Make it responsive – ability to use across all platforms

Microlearning doesn’t have to be eLearning or videos. Examples of Microlearning objects that have been touted around include: Video, online module, Mobile phone exercise.

Microlearning that is designed to be used in a just-in-time way doesn’t need to be a full learning experience, it can just be a resource: Checklists, flowcharts, videos, and infographics all make great micro resources.

Why does it seem to be working?

Microlearning appears to tick all the boxes. Given what we have covered already on shortened time frames, less budget, shorter attention spans, increased technology, it just fits the need perfectly but here are some other reasons:

Time – microlearning is in fact faster to produce than traditional long form or even eLearning training.  Meaning more can be produced to meet the demand as opposed to expecting learners to wait until a course is ready.

Budget – Links to previous heading. Microlearning and especially video based microlearning can be a lot cheaper to produce. While reducing the need for travel and additional costs of traditional learning. See examples of cost saving at the end of this article.

Flexible – learners need to have material when they need it and the format they need it in. Microlearning if created correctly meets that need across the board and is available at their fingertips, from any device.

Repetition – Any trainer will you once and done simply doesn’t work (Enter our good friend the Ebbinghause forgetting curve) therefore to get any form of ROI from your training and get any form of application there needs to be a series of repetitions to remind and reinforce the learning. Microlearning is perfect for this reinforcement.

Cognitive overload – We are all busy and stress levels are getting worse. The last thing busy people need is to be bombarded with information to overload them. Microlearning reduces cognitive overload and increases retention.

Still not convinced? We have created a highly successful series of microlearning training videos for business covering topics in Sales, Service and Leadership and we have two video libraries – 1 minute videos (yes one technique in one minute) and 10 minute video modules. Here are some samples to show you what it looks like in practice: https://vimeopro.com/lplanet/example-videos

Final parting words:

  •  IBM discovered 40% of their training costs were travel an accommodation

  • Microsoft used video-based training to cut training costs from $320 per person to $17

  • Smartphone users complete learning 45% faster than desktop learners

  • 10 Million videos are watched on Snapchat every day

  • Deloitte has come out and proven that an average employee can devote 1% of their time to learning

  • Caterpillar cut between 40 – 80% of its classroom training costs using on demand training