Learner engagement is the holy grail for many HR and L&D professionals. With so many distractions, ever-increasing workloads and the changing demands of the Modern Learner, it is becoming more and more difficult to maintain or even increase learner engagement. But help is at hand in the form of the often talked about but little understood approach to instructional design and learning content: microlearning.

Microlearning: let’s be clear what it is not

You can’t take existing learning content, chunk it up into shorter modules and attempt to serve it up as microlearning. Just because the content is delivered in a smaller/shorter format does not mean that it can be considered to be microlearning.

It may look like microlearning, but it is not so be wary of this form of “mutton dressed as lamb” corporate learning.

To summarise, Microlearning is NOT:

  • Long form learning content chopped into shorter pieces
  • Another name for a short piece of learning content
  • A plain piece of text or document
  • A resource that is not designed to be learned, internalised and remembered

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Microlearning: let’s be clear what it is

Microlearning is all about delivering personalized training content in the form of bite-sized nuggets of learning or information.

The learning content has been specifically designed with clear learning outcomes in mind and “built from the bottom up” to be microlearning: short, sharp, focused and engaging learning content aligned with your overall corporate learning objectives.

Microlearning should be:

  • Easy to access
  • Easy to use
  • Visually attractive
  • Excellent UX (User experience)
  • Easy to complete

Each bite-size burst of microlearning may last anywhere from 60 seconds to typically no more than 10 minutes with the learner served relevant learning content in an engaging and digestible format that provides advice, learning activities and resource that ensure the learning objectives are achieved.

The learner is in control of what and when they learn which can have a positive impact and increase learner engagement.

Video, podcasts, sound casts and online quizzes are just some of the innovative formats deployed in microlearning courses.

To summarise microlearning IS:

  • Online learning content designed to meet learners’ learning expectations
  • Discrete, self-contained learning
  • Content designed to meet a specific learning outcome
  • Short bite-sized modules (from 60 seconds to several minutes)
  • Sometimes informal learning

Microlearning: how to increase learner engagement

Traditional face-to-face training has been around for a very long time. It will continue to have its place in corporate learning and should form a valued part of any corporate learning strategy.

While it has many advantages, it also has many disadvantages – namely the requirement to attend a physical location on a set date and time.

Invariably, it disrupts the working day or week and may create negativity among learners.

The opposite reaction is created when learning is made accessible to your employees and delivered in a format that is now intuitive to anyone who has a Smartphone – more than 2 billion of us!

Microlearning is the antidote to learner disengagement. It fights it by using easy-to-understand elements like bullet points, games, quizzes and graphics to increase learner engagement.

Microlearning: it’s how our brains like to learn

In his book, Understanding Occupational & Organizational Psychology, Lynne Millward states that information can be comprehended effectively when it’s presented in pieces.

Learning nuggets are ideally suited to our brains, which are better at processing small packets of information rather than huge chunks of it.

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Understanding seems like a good goal in the world of corporate training. Helping learners to understand your point is the pre-requisite to them applying it to their own situation and starting to use it in critical thinking and problem solving in the workplace.

Microlearning: meeting the needs of the Modern Learner

We are all Modern Learners: overwhelmed, distracted and impatient learners. The way we want to learn and access learning has changed dramatically in recent years and thus HR and L&D professionals must provide new and innovative ways for us to access learning and improve our professional skills.

In order to increase learner engagement, new learning initiatives must address these key Modern Learner challenges:

  • Lack of time
  • Expectation of high quality and relevant content
  • High expectations in terms of user experience (UX) and visuals

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Microlearning: a new horizon

Microlearning is not just about producing bite-sized nuggets of learning content that can be easily consumed on any device. It is also about content that supports performance at the point of need. To quote Josh Bersin, author of the seminal report on “Meet the Modern Leaner”, microlearning can answer the question “I need help now”.

Microlearning allows learners to move at their own pace, giving them the ability to go back and review complex concepts as often as needed.

As new knowledge is delivered in smaller chunks, learners avoid the risk of being overwhelmed by too much information at once.

Combining microlearning with social learning can also be a winning formula. Both offer bite-sized, accessible and personalized content with learning taking place outside of what we might call the traditional learning formats.

By learners sharing information, ideas, impressions, reviews, etc. of their microlearning experiences this will make the learning experience all the more rich and powerful.