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ATD Blog

A Universal Definition of Microlearning

Friday, November 22, 2019

In their new book, Microlearning: Short and Sweet, authors and learning experts Karl M. Kapp and Robyn A. Defelice offer straightforward learning theories and research behind microlearning.

Kapp is an international speaker, scholar, writer, and expert on the convergence of learning, technology, and business, with a focus on game-thinking, games, and gamification for learning. An award-winning professor of instructional technology at Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, he serves as the director of the university’s Institute for Interactive Technologies.

Defelice has served as a strategist and consultant in the learning and performance arena for more than 19 years and directs training initiatives for Revolve Solutions, a service-disabled veteran-owned small business. She specializes in organizational learning management and convergence of decentralized training functions, reshaping learning organizations and operational frameworks for efficient, cost-effective sustainment of learning solutions.

“What we’ve done with the book is create a common language, standard implementation strategies, and a proven approach to the often ill-defined concept of ‘microlearning.’ It will help organizations and individuals create effective and impactful microlearning,” states Kapp.

Providing a universal definition of microlearning using rich examples, the authors delve not only into what microlearning is, but also into what it is not.


According to the book, microlearning:

  • Is both new and old, with its origins dating back hundreds of years, if not more.
  • Is a short, focused learning event but is not based on an arbitrary time limit.
  • Must be part of a larger learning structure or strategy to optimize its effectiveness.
  • Is used for performance measures as well as general knowledge recall.
  • Should be active and engaging and encourage participation from the user.
  • Is not always the best solution for learning needs because not all of what individuals need to know to be successful can be taught through microlearning strategies.

Ultimately, Microlearning: Short and Sweet presents an actionable road map for planning, implementing, designing, and evaluating its effectiveness. Kapp and Defelice discuss the trending popularity of microlearning, and they provide a framework that classifies six primary use types of microlearning: pensive, performance-based, persuasive, post-instruction, practice-based, preparatory/preparation. They offer guidance for creating a strategy to determine if microlearning is the right approach in any given context.


“Microlearning is specific in the sense that only one or two objectives are being achieved. Having prompts assists developers in determining the vision of microlearning to the larger learning framework allowing designers to confidently design meaningful and engaging microlearning products,” explains Defelice.

Kapp and Defelice also point out that microlearning is growing with the use of new-wave technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). For example, through VR, learners can be instantly immersed into 3-D environments. With AR, layers of images and instructions can be imposed on car windshields and eyeglasses.

Bottom line: Recognizing what makes microlearning effective is critical to avoiding costly, wasteful investments in the latest learning trend or newest shiny object. Only by understanding the nuances behind it can you decide what format and style suits your needs. Whether you are creating an individual product or a series of learning solutions, you need to follow a well-designed plan.

About the Author

Ryann K. Ellis is an editor for the Association of Talent Development (ATD). She has been covering workplace learning and performance for ATD (formerly the American Society for Training & Development) since 1995. She currently sources and authors content for TD Magazine and CTDO, as well as manages ATD's Community of Practice blogs. Contact her at [email protected]

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