What is Microlearning and 6 Markers That Make It Effective

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While microlearning may not be a revolutionary new learning process, especially for learning and development (L&D) professionals, it has become an indispensable tool for creating memorable learning experiences.

It has also proven to be an effective method for reinforcing concepts and supporting learners throughout the training lifecycle. However, there is a lot of misunderstanding about what constitutes microlearning content.

In this episode of Insider Training, TrainingPros welcomes the Chief Learning Rebel herself, international speaker and author of Disruptive Learning, Shannon Tipton, to clarify things and help you learn how to more easily turn big concepts into small content.

Starting with her own succinct definition of microlearning, Shannon quickly puts its validity to the test as she identifies and explains six critical traits shared by effective microlearning content.

With over 25 years in the learning industry, Shannon is the founder of Learning Rebels, LLC, which specializes in helping L&D practitioners connect learning to action. She also hosts the popular virtual Learning Rebels Coffee Chat.

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Speaker: Shannon Tipton, Author, Speaker, and Chief Learning Rebel for Learning Rebels, LLC

What is Microlearning? A Definition.

From a situated cognition perspective, a learner's cognitive functions within a learning activity and the context in which they take place are interdependent.

A lot of times, when we think about the word microlearning, we understand the word micro. We understand that micro means small. We've got microgreens; we got microbrews; we’ve got micro pigs, micro rabbits.

We've got all sorts of micro stuff. Small. We know that it means small, but oftentimes when I talk about the term microlearning, this is the face I get. It's, I don't know, I hear so many different definitions.

So, here's the definition that I'm using. It's, "Microlearning is short bursts of right-sized content to help people achieve a specific outcome."

Tell me right now, what is it that is standing out to you with this definition?

“Microlearning is short bursts of focused right-sized content to help people achieve a specific outcome."

Short bursts, specific outcome?

What are the Characteristics of Effective Microlearning?

There are six microlearning markers. You can use this as a rubric, if you will, to determine whether or not your content is appropriate for microlearning development or whether or not it's fit for purpose.

#1. Microlearning is a Short Effort

The first is that it is a short effort. Meaning that it's a short effort for you to create. It shouldn't take you six months or a year to create a microlearning object.

It should take you an hour, a couple of hours or mere minutes to be able to put something together.

#2. Microlearning is a Short Time

Also then, that means that it's a short time for people to consume. And I say short time.

I'm not putting time constraints around it, again, but people should be able to consume your microlearning information in a relatively short period of time, which means then that microlearning needs to be delivered in small units.

#3. Microlearning is in Small Units

I go back to that (microlearning) definition where we talked about specific outcomes. One key learning outcome, that's it, right, that's where we want to be.

You've got a short amount of time to develop it, a short amount of time to consume it, and that it’s in small separate units.

#4. Microlearning is for Immediate Use

The next step is that it's for immediate use. Microlearning is best used for just in time, not just in case.

So, either just in time learning or learning reinforcement, meaning that we're learning, looking to connect, learning lessons. So just in time or learning reinforcement.

#5. Microlearning has a Flexible Modality

Then this means that because we're using it for those two key points, that means then that we need to have a flexible modality. And why should we have a flexible modality?

Well, it's 2022. Your learning should be able to be comfortably viewed on a mobile phone, a tablet, a laptop, or a desktop because we all know that if you go to Amazon on your phone, it's going to look one way.

If you go to Amazon on a tablet, it's going to look or appear another way. If you look at it on your laptop, it's going to have yet a different view.

So that means that it's device agnostic. It's able to adapt to whatever view it's being looked at. And so, you need to keep this in mind as well.

Where are people going to be participating with the training? Are they going to be looking at it on their phones? Are they going to be looking at it on tablets, on their laptops?

What device are they commonly using? And you need to take that into consideration.

#6. Microlearning is Easily Accessible

Then lastly, it's about easy access. Here's the thing, microlearning doesn't do anyone any good if they can't find it.

Years ago, and giving away my age a little bit, there was a person, a salesperson, excuse me, by the name of Zig Ziglar. Zig Ziglar may sound familiar to you.

He used to have a saying, "You can have the best product in the world, but if you can't sell it, you've still got it."

To put this into training words for you is you can have the best training program in the world. If people can't find it, they can't use it.

It doesn't matter how great it is, how interactive it is, or how well-written it is. If it's buried 10 clicks within your learning management system, and it's frustrating for people to find, they won't use it.

This sometimes means that some of our microlearning elements have to be stored somewhere else. And there's nothing wrong with that.

Maybe it's on a mobile app, or maybe it's on a desktop app, or maybe it's in SharePoint, or maybe it's on Teams, or maybe it's on Slack. As long as people can find it within three to four clicks, then it's something that's helpful.

Microlearning Should Mimic Life

That's what microlearning should be above all else. It should be helpful, and it should be applicable. Mostly it should mimic life. It should have that ease.

When we have a question today, where do we go? We go to YouTube. There's one search bar. We enter in that search name, and you get two bazillion things that come back.

How to fix a toilet? 500,000 entries, you pick the top couple, and off you go. Two clicks in, you're gone. And so that means that our microlearning elements need to be that easy to find.

Learning needs to mimic life!

Shannon Tipton

Shannon Tipton

With over 25 years of training industry experience, Shannon Tipton is the owner of Learning Rebels, LLC. She is recognized for bringing real-world expertise and non-traditional training solutions together to help businesses and their people realize their full potential. Twice named one of the Top 100 eLearning Movers and Shakers by the eLearning Industry, Shannon is the author of Disruptive Learning.
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