I’ve been in the learning space for so long that I find these conversations about “microlearning” humorous. Because, in the eLearning industry, we rename things and label things to make them seem shiny and new.
So what’s “microlearning”?
“Microlearning is a way of teaching and delivering content to learners in small, very specific bursts. The learners are in control of what and when they're learning.” - eLearning Industry
The concept of delivering bite-size learning and following up with reinforcement activities has been around for a very long time. In 1999 I was developing what my company at the time called “Single-Point Lessons” for the exact reasons microlearning is getting attention now.
Like “eLearning”, “Microlearning” is simply a term someone in the online training industry came up with a few years ago.
Also, the industry cannot agree on what “micro” means. Some say it is 3 minutes. Others say it is 8 minutes. And some say it is merely the amount of time it takes to teach a single concept/achieve a single learning objective. Most microlearning conversations are around technical skill-based learning - not concepts, and not soft skills. Microlearning frequently involves bundling more than one component together – for example, three 6-minute microlearning pieces are created, but all three must be taken to obtain mastery of the content.
The other important thing about microlearning is the reason behind it - attention spans and learning retention. To support learning retention and memorability, we use storytelling, interactivity, professional narration, and modern motion graphic tools used by NASA and videogame developers.
As instructional designers, we purposely chunk content the way we do and put practice exercises where we put them to make the content bite-sized, and to help solidify the content of one section before moving on. In our full lessons, each of our sections are kind of like micro-learning components.
The more important factor in any training is keeping it relevant, interesting and memorable…not to make it as short as possible. Here’s the connection: if a piece of training content is too long, employees won’t remember it, yet quality should always win over quantity. Five minutes of ‘ho-hum’ content is not better than 15 minutes of engaging, memorable content.
We learned when eLearning took the training industry by storm (circa 2003) that not all content should be eLearning, and, similarly, not all content should be micro. Regardless, all training, to maximize effectiveness, should have ongoing reinforcement, if possible.
Concerning reinforcement of training, as a former learning consultant I didn’t recommend one-off, event-based training. I always designed something before the instructional event to set the stage, motivate, provide context, and I recommended something after training to reinforce key concepts and training objectives. For example, one tested, training reinforcement I used is to include a scripted weekly email series of “do you remember” topical points, sent for weeks after a training event.
The business benefit of bite-sized training content is in support of training efficiency. Microlearning content provides flexibility, options for training that require a smaller time commitment for employees, and keep them learning on the job with minimal disruption to workflow or productivity. For example, a 5-minute training video can be attentively watched in the 10 minutes before your next meeting, appointment, or shift change.
For Vivid, the universe of total assignable training content numbers hundreds of diverse, topic specific content options, including…
- 100+ online safety courses average 20-30 minutes
- Dozens of printable supplemental materials: safety auditing checklists, group discussion sheets, and topical safety summaries
- 17 safety webcasts
- 70 2-3 minutes safety tip videos
- 20+ 5-8 minute supervisor safety tip videos for hazard recognition training
- 23 5-Minute Courses for refresher training on annual safety requirements
These training options are designed to reinforce and extend training beyond the initial learning event, in bite-size pieces and deeper, more intensive experiences, to reach each employee level of participation, with an ‘all-of-the-above’ strategy.