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ATD Blog

Using Microlearning to Boost Knowledge Retention in Healthcare Settings

Thursday, July 23, 2020

The healthcare industry faces unique challenges for learning content delivery in its fast-paced, 24/7 patient-care environments of increasing organizational knowledge. Continuous workplace learning is paramount to the ongoing delivery of high-quality care and advancement of clinical outcomes. Leaders seek to promote innovative solutions to support their highly skilled clinical workforces with relevant and engaging learning experiences and to ensure skills application on the job while also supporting those who aspire to drive their own learning. For employees in typical patient care environments, the demands of the workday can make participation in workplace learning activities difficult. Additionally, it is estimated that up to 79 percent of knowledge delivered in traditional learning delivery formats is forgotten within the first 30 days.

Benefits of Microlearning: Added Value for Learners and Leaders Alike

Microlearning is a form of e-learning characterized by short, interconnected learning activities and low learner time commitments in which learners are exposed to small, concentrated chunks of information bit by bit. Research suggests that knowledge retention is significantly increased if small chunks of information are presented on a regular basis and reinforced over spaced intervals of time. The constant flow of information keeps the given topic top-of-mind and, as a result, the real-world recall and application of that topic is more consistent. This e-learning format has proven to be one of the most effective strategies for ongoing professional development by promoting learner engagement, enhancing learner knowledge retention, and providing organizations with data about learning outcomes to better inform organizational strategy.

Our organization chose to use a microlearning platform that employs the brain science of human knowledge retention using a game-based method, helping bridge the gap between formal and informal learning. Scenario-based questions keep the learner engaged, and gamification adds an element of competition, helping learners embrace a culture of continuous learning.

At our organization, increasing organizational knowledge can sometimes make knowledge retention challenging. Through microlearning, we experienced a boost in learner knowledge retention and gained the ability to generate rich learner data that helped us gauge overall learner proficiency in a specified critical subject matter area. We were then able to aggregate individual learner data with clinical quality performance metrics at the departmental level to gain deeper insight into the degree in which learners where applying concepts on the job as a team within their department overall and inform where we needed to further tailor or adjust our education efforts.


We were also able to compare the aggregated data against desired organizational results and targeted outcomes. To further incentivize voluntary participation, continuing education credits were granted in various disciplines for completion (such as continuing medical education CME and CNE).


Game-Based Microlearning Pilot at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta

In our healthcare organization, a three-month pilot was conducted among a specific set of employees to randomly audit knowledge retention of required on-the-job skills application in a targeted subject area. Seven scenario-based questions were developed on the topic, and participants received one question per day, three times per week by email or directly to their mobile device via a vendor developed mobile app. After responding, immediate feedback was provided followed by brief education related to the question. There were two rounds of education in the same subject area separated by a four-week hiatus. In each round, questions were repeated until answered correctly twice. Participants received points for correctly answered questions and could see how they compared to their peers through a visual leaderboard.

As evidenced in the graph below, an uptick in targeted outcomes occurred due to the training among pilot participants shortly after beginning the training. During the education intervention, random audit data revealed a steady rise in learner outcomes, ultimately achieving 100 percent in desired behaviors and on-the-job skills application, which has remained at that same level for many months.

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Why Was This Model Successful?

  • Low Time Commitment: Participants spent mere minutes every few days focused on continuous learning.
  • Repetition of Content: Participants were presented with content repeatedly over time, increasing the efficiency of the uptake of information.
  • Easily Accessible: Participants quickly accessed questions via their email or mobile device.
  • Competition: A visual leaderboard increased the level of competition among participants, spurring commitment and enthusiasm.
  • CME: Continuing medical education (CME) credit hours were granted for participation, answering the classic question, “What’s in it for me?”

When searching for an opportunity to support critical healthcare operations while also promoting innovation and efficiency to achieve quality outcomes, consider a gamified, microlearning model. As learner preferences continue to shift toward more engaging and empowering learner-driven experiences, this approach provides a compelling alternative to traditional e-learning.

About the Author

Lawton Delchamps, CPTD, is a senior instructional designer who helps translate complex topics into digestible, engaging, and effective learning programs through a bridge between storytelling and educational technology. She has worked in talent development for six years and believes that learning doesn’t stop at graduation, but instead remains essential to a lifetime of personal and professional growth.

About the Author

Chris Armstead, CPTD, is a talent development professional who is passionate about design, development, and facilitation of workplace learning. In addition to design and development, Chris enjoys linking learning and business metrics, learning strategy development, and leveraging emerging technologies to support workplace learning. Contact him on LinkedIn at

1 Comment
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This model has great applicability to so many different content areas. Thanks for sharing.
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