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ATD Blog

7 Myths of Microlearning

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

I’ll be sharing my perspective on microlearning as part of the upcoming ATD Core 4 Conference in Toronto (September 10-11, 2018). During the session, we’ll discuss fundamental microlearning principles and work through a framework for designing right-fit learning resolutions.

But before we dig into what microlearning is, we must first pause and clarify what it is not. Like any big trend, microlearning is surrounded by buzz, myths, and assumptions. Some of these come from practitioners who just don’t understand the fundamentals. Others are born from vendor marketing as companies seek to capitalize on the trend but without any real depth. Whatever the reason, misconceptions have emerged and are rapidly cluttering the real value-added discussion around microlearning.

Here are the seven most common microlearning myths I encounter daily.

Myth 1: Microlearning Is New

If you attend my microlearning session (or download the presentation), you’ll quickly notice that the concepts and tactics I cover sound familiar. And they should—because microlearning isn’t really all that new. The fundamental principles behind providing right-fit solutions are well established and rooted in learning science. They’re also mostly common sense. We are just now coming to realize their potential within the modern workplace thanks to a confluence of factors, such as constantly shifting priorities and increasing role complexity, driving the conversation.

Myth 2: Microlearning Is About Duration

Ask people to define microlearning. A large percentage will go straight to duration and compare microlearning to traditional training. It’s true that microlearning tends to be shorter. However, it’s not the duration that matters. It’s not about chunking big content into smaller content. It’s the focus. Traditional courses often include tons of fluff or try to cover an excessive amount of information. This leads to lengthy seat times that don’t fit into the day-to-day employee workflow or align with learning science principles. Microlearning is focused on a specific result and applies only the content necessary to achieve that result. This makes it shorter than a traditional course. So, it’s not about duration. It’s about focus.


By the way, that thing about human attention span being less than that of a goldfish is also a myth!


Myth 3: Microlearning Is Video

The use of video in training has exploded over the past few years thanks to technological improvements. Just 10 years ago, you needed a sizeable budget, heavy equipment, and professional help to produce a simple video. Today, high-quality content can be created with just a smartphone. This makes video a great format for microlearning, but it’s not the only format. As with any training content, the medium should match the message and context in which it will be consumed. Why make a video when a job aid will do? Also, let’s be clear, simply breaking up one long video into a series of short videos is not microlearning either.

Myth 4: Microlearning Works Only for Simple Topics

Microlearning works when the organization knows what problem it is trying to solve. If you can define the desired result, required behaviors, and foundational knowledge, you can apply microlearning principles. After all, learning is learning. When and how these principles are used will vary based on both topic and context. The types of content used will also change, but microlearning principles, such as learning science and anytime/anywhere access, are equally applicable across workplace topics. This includes management training and (gasp) soft skills!

Myth 5: Microlearning Replaces Everything

Classes aren’t going away. E-learning isn’t going away. Coaching definitely isn’t going away. Microlearning isn’t a replacement for your current learning strategy. It’s an enhancement.
By applying microlearning principles, you can determine the best possible ways to use each of the tools in your training toolkit. Some may change. Others may stay the same. Overall, your impact on the business will be substantially improved by incorporating microlearning into your overall learning and support strategy.

Myth 6: Microlearning Is Only Self-Directed

There is a tremendous push in workplace learning to enable employees to own their development. I’m all for it, but I also recognize the limitations. People don’t always recognize their own weaknesses (case in point, the Dunning-Kruger Effect). In addition to personal development needs, the organization’s priorities will continue to evolve. Therefore, effective workplace learning is a balance of push and pull. Microlearning enables this balance by increasing employee support touchpoints and sustaining knowledge increases and behavior change long-term.

Myth 7: Microlearning Is for Millennials

Millennials are no different than any other generation when it comes to their wants and needs in the workplace. This is especially true as related to learning and behavior change. Every employee is unique and therefore needs (and deserves) the right type of support. Microlearning improves your ability to focus on specific results and therefore adapt to the needs of the individual. In this way, microlearning works for everyone—regardless of demographics.

I hope you can join me at ATD Core 4 in Toronto on September 10-11, 2018, to explore the real value of microlearning. You can also check out The Ultimate Guide to Microlearning, which I wrote in collaboration with Axonify, to help kick-start your modern learning evolution.

About the Author

JD Dillon is one of the most prolific authors and speakers in workplace learning today. With his practical approach, JD integrates science, technology, storytelling and pure common sense to enable employees, improve organizational performance and drive business results.

JD has spent 20 years designing learning and performance strategies for respected global organizations, including The Walt Disney Company, Kaplan, Brambles, and AMC Theatres. He is currently Chief Learning Architect with Axonify, where he partners with an award-winning team to solve business problems for leading organizations through the application of modern learning practices and cutting-edge technology.

JD is also the founder of LearnGeek, through which he provides advisory and educational services.

You can find JD on Twitter via @JD_Dillon or online at

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Well said JD! Great article!
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Thanks for this short piece JD! As a learning psychologist, I agree with your points, especially regarding practitioners being out of touch with fundamentals of how humans learn and how to create more effective design frameworks by using evidence-based research. Microlearning seems to be just another word for many methods we already know and use it when we design learning.
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