What is microlearning?

In the context of employee learning and development, microlearning is an approach that emphasizes “bite-sized” content delivered in a variety of formats. The main idea behind microlearning is to break down learning episodes into smaller, more digestible pieces so that they are easier to understand and remember.

For example, microlearning could take the form of…

  • Short, focused videos on a single topic, designed to meet a specific learning outcome or enhance a specific skill
  • Quick quizzes or “knowledge checks” to assess retention
  • Shareable infographics

In each case, the content is short and focused so it can be consumed and understood quickly.

Microlearning is often contrasted with more “traditional” delivery methods, such as seminars, workshops, and training sessions. Whether given live in person, or over the internet in an online session or webinar, these traditional methods tend to be more comprehensive. They have also proven to be largely ineffective at changing behaviors, with little content remembered outside of the seminar context.



How long are microlearning videos? (How long should they be?)

Short-form video is one of the most popular forms of microlearning available today. But there is a misconception that the best microlearning videos are short clips that are 60-90 seconds long. While this might be true of advertising, this span is far too short to convey a complex idea during a training session. On the other hand, attention spans tend to drop off when a video exceeds 12 minutes in length.

The science is clear on this point: The ideal viewing time of a short-form video for microlearning is approximately six to nine minutes long. (Likewise, a quiz for knowledge retention should be completable within the same timeframe.)

A good rule of thumb is this: If your training sessions schedule in a restroom break, then they are prime candidates for transforming into microlearning sessions.

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What microlearning is not

“Microlearning” means so much more than just “short.” And preparing a microlearning asset involves so much more than making videos or training sessions shorter! 

For example, it does not help to simply take a 90-minute seminar and break it up into seven-minute segments, the way many learning platforms do. This just makes longer-form content harder to follow.

Microlearning helps encapsulate a single lesson or skill in a short, self-contained format. This takes expertise in a number of areas: Adult learning theory, graphic design, script writing, and more.   


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Why is microlearning so effective?

A classic study from the blog softwareadvice.com found that 58% of employees would be more likely to use their company’s online learning tools if the content “was broken up into multiple, shorter lessons.” And once used, learning is improved, too: Several studies have found that retention of information can be as much as 22% greater when microlearning formats are used.

So what makes microlearning so effective? There is no one answer, but a lot has to do with the nature of the modern workplace—including workplace distractions, Gen Z employees, and the convenience offered by microlearning.

The rise of distractions in the modern workplace. The average employee is interrupted or distracted by something in their workplace 11 times a day…and the time it takes for an employee to get back on track after an interruption can be as much as 25 minutes. Watching and internalizing a seven-minute video without workplace distraction is do-able; doing so with a one-hour seminar is practically impossible.

The appeal to a new generation in the workplace. Gen Z employees are now hitting the workplace and will fast overtake millennials as the most-represented generation. Gen Z is a generation raised on short videos: One Business Insider survey found that 62% of Gen Zers are daily YouTube users, and 60% of the users on TikTok are Gen Zers as well. Short-form microlearning videos can provide training to a generation in the format they already know.

The need for content at learners’ fingertips. Traditional training forces learners and teachers both to set aside time and space for learning. This has the effect of divorcing what gets learned from the context in which it is actually helpful. Part of microlearning’s effectiveness comes from the fact that microlearning can be made available online, on almost any platform, whenever and wherever the content is needed most.



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Examples of microlearning in modern organizations

There are several different components to an effective microlearning program. Gone are the days when companies would put a library of videos on their own intranet; today, microlearning is seen as a much more varied and engaging program for content.

Microlearning components tend to include things like:

  • Short-form video
  • Games and game-like apps (leaderboards, for example)
  • Quizzes and knowledge checks
  • Live webcasts

Using all of these different components can help solidify new skills and behaviors over time.

Microlearning example: MetLife

Like most fast-paced organizations with a diverse learner population, MetLife was finding it a challenge to deliver learning in a way that fit employees’ workflow. Their existing library of courses was robust, but engagement rates were low; most courses were one to two hours long, and employees just couldn’t take time away from production to complete the modules.

Together with Blue Ocean Brain, MetLife developed a tailored program that folded microlearning into MetLife’s new learning portal and overall portfolio of learning activities. This included a variety of formats and customized learning for their employees. Read more about MetLife’s program.

Microlearning example: Enerplus

In a company-wide initiative, Enerplus aimed to enhance skills and behaviors deemed critical to delivering value to stakeholders and employees alike—including collaboration, inclusivity, and creativity. But with a geographically dispersed group of employees and pressures on spending,  Enerplus needed a better way to deliver learning experiences that would help their people develop and strengthen these skills.

Enerplus turned to microlearning as an approach to drip out content related to their cultural beliefs, which allowed them to set the appropriate cultural tone, convey impactful stories, and build confidence in their learners. They then built on this foundation with a series of live webcasts to allow for deeper, more topical learning. Read more about Enerplus’ microlearning journey.


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When should you use microlearning for Learning and Development (L&D)?

Microlearning makes sense as an approach to corporate learning and development (L&D) initiatives, with proven benefits for:

Learning “soft” skills. Soft skills are the set of skills, behaviors, and tendencies that help a person thrive in the modern workplace and include things like teamwork skills, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, growth mindset, and communication skills. Microlearning provides a great way to sharpen these skills in a quick, non-confrontational manner.

Skills reinforcement. Because microlearning is fast and accessible, it can be used at the point of need to reinforce skills relevant to the situation. For example, a manager could review how to run a team feedback session in the hour before having to do so, and gain useful insights that can be leveraged immediately.

Self-directed learning. Do you have some high-potential (HiPo) employees eager to advance with your company? Set out a microlearning curriculum where they can complete courses and take charge of their own learning and development. This kind of self-paced learning keeps learners more engaged and focused and is also a great way to fill skills gaps.

Shifting the corporate culture (DEI initiatives). Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is a core area of employee learning and development—just as employee training is a key piece of all DEI initiatives. Microlearning is a great way to bring awareness to your employees while minimizing some potentially awkward conversations. It also allows you to roll out DEI training consistently over time, keeping DEI in the culture (rather than a one-day training that everyone soon forgets).

Achieving Company Culture Goals

Microlearning platforms for corporate use

While there are many microlearning platforms on the market today, only a select few have been designed for corporate use, with adult learning styles in mind. Finding the right learning platform means finding a partner who can understand your goals and help plug into your current L&D and DEI initiatives.

What should your company look for in a microlearning platform?

Every organization’s needs are different, so there is no one platform that is “one size fits all.” However, there are some qualities of a learning platform that will put it into a class by itself:

  1. A team of experienced instructional designers. The team behind the platform should be up on recent research on how adults learn, as well as L&D best practices.
  2. Up-to-date and relevant content. This requires timely updates and a keen eye for what information is relevant to modern organizations.
  3. Topics that focus on a single learning objective. Microlearning lessons should be self-contained and actionable.
  4. Easy customization. Not everything can be taught with “off the shelf” content. Your microlearning provider should be able to tailor a solution for you.
  5. Intuitive authoring tools. If you are going to create content yourself, you should be able to do so with minimal hassle and then be able to work it into your offering seamlessly.
  6. Easy employee access. Employees won’t use a new platform if their access is restricted to the office, or if there is a complicated login process. Invest in a platform that lowers barriers to use, not one that creates new ones.
  7. Security. That said, easy employee access needs to be balanced with security. Make sure the platform can secure your company’s IP and employees’ personal information.
  8. Reporting and analytics. Your platform should be able to track employee use and learning path progress. Analytics should give L&D professionals insights into what is working, and what is not.
  9. Varied forms of engagement. Microlearning is so much more than training videos. Invest in a platform that provides quizzes, social sharing, leader boards, games, and more to enhance the learning experience through engagement.
  10. Backed by a consultative approach. Getting an L&D/DEI program off the ground requires more than just an investment in software or content. To get up and running, you’ll need to partner with a solutions provider who can assess your needs, help with the transition, and ultimately be invested in your success.

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