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Ask a Trainer: Understanding Microlearning

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Hi, Tim!

I just started a new job as a learning experience designer for a national food distribution company after being laid off earlier this year due to COVID-19. While I’m so happy to have landed in a new job, I am finding myself overwhelmed with some of the instructional design philosophies my new manager wants me to implement; mainly microlearning.

My manager keeps throwing the term around, and so I’m feeling pressured to master it rather quickly. I know microlearning is a “thing” within our industry, but I don’t think I totally understand how to do it right. Is microlearning just another form of e-learning? Should I be trying to condense my training content into microlearning? And if so, how do I even begin doing that?!

Please help!

Hello, and thanks for reaching out! Our industry likes to reinvent itself all the time, and if I’m being honest, I think microlearning is a great example of our industry trying to create the latest shiny object for us to chase after. While you can find tons of great information and resources about microlearning on the ATD website, I don’t think microlearning is as complicated as some folks like to make it.

To answer your questions, I’ll give you some of my thoughts on what microlearning is (and isn’t) and some best practices for how to create it.

What Is Microlearning?

Over that last several years, I’ve worked with ATD to facilitate the Microlearning Certificate program, and one of the first questions I ask the attendees is to provide their definition of microlearning. It never fails to amaze me how many folks think microlearning is something that is exclusive to e-learning or video-based learning. The truth is, it’s not!


Microlearning is any learning content that can be consumed in a few short minutes and is laser-focused on a specific performance outcome. That’s it! Nothing more, nothing less. Yes, microlearning might come in the form of a short e-learning module or a video; however, it might also be a job aid, an infographic, a podcast, or anything that can be quickly consumed to help you perform a task.

How Is Microlearning Created?

The challenge a lot of folks, like yourself, face when tasked with creating microlearning is how to create it in the first place. One of the biggest misconceptions is that microlearning is about condensing your existing content into a shorter amount of time. And I can’t emphasize enough how not true this is.

Creating microlearning is not about taking what normally requires an hour of learning time and condensing it down to five minutes. Learning doesn’t work that way. If it takes an hour to learn something, then that’s what it takes. There’s no magical instructional design dust that will make it equally as effective when cut down to five minutes.

So, if microlearning isn’t about condensing information, then what is it about? Microlearning is looking at what you can teach in a short amount of time and delivering it as efficiently as possible. This might mean taking an e-learning course that was originally 20 minutes and breaking it into several shorter, easier-to-consume chunks.

I hope the answers I provided for those two questions help guide you in the right direction. As you continue learning more about microlearning, I would highly recommend checking out Designing Microlearning by Carla Torgerson and Sue Iannone. Everything I’ve learned about microlearning I learned from Carla, so I know it’s a good next step for you.


Best of luck!


What other tips do you have for creating microlearning? Share them by commenting below.

Do you have a learning question you’d like me to tackle? You can email them to [email protected] Also, visit the Ask a Trainer hub to check out all of your questions and my answers.

We welcome your comments and engagement on these posts. All posts are reviewed to ensure appropriateness based on ATD’s requirements for postings in our online communities.

Please note: Content shared in this column is provided by the author and may not reflect the perspectives of ATD.

About the Author

Tim Slade is a speaker, author, award-winning
e-learning designer, and author of The eLearning
Designer’s Handbook.

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This article was so extremely helpful and insightful! I particularly agree with the your comment, "There’s no magical instructional design dust that will make it equally as effective when cut down to five minutes."
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This is a great article... I, also, have heard many different definitions of MicroLearning. This article is a quick read and crystal clear. Thank you
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Thank you for the informative (and honest) info in this post. I'm signed up for the MicroLearning Certificate program that starts in November and am so excited to learn more!
Thanks, Carol! I'll be filling in as a facilitator for one of the sessions. I look forward to seeing your there!
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