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Talent Development Glossary Terms
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What Is Microlearning?

Microlearning enhances learning and performance in the most efficient and effective manner possible through short pieces of content. Assets can usually be accessed on-demand when the learner needs them. Many people find microlearning valuable because it can be consumed quickly while the learner is performing their job, which contrasts to longer in-person or virtual forms of training that they may need to carve out time in their work schedules to complete.

What Are Some Microlearning Examples?

Many people associate microlearning with video, which is a common and often effective form of it. Video is not, however, the only viable example of microlearning. Other examples include self-paced e-learning, games, blogs, job aids, podcasts, infographics, and other visuals. Talent development professionals should select the type of media that is most appropriate for their specific situation and learning need.

Definitions of what constitutes microlearning vary. ATD’s microlearning research report found that talent development professionals think that 13 minutes is the maximum amount of time something can last in order to be considered microlearning. Respondents also reported that the ideal length of a microlearning segment is 10 minutes, and that segments between two and five minutes were considered the most effective length for microlearning.

While it’s useful to know what length of microlearning is considered most ideal or effective, many experts argue that microlearning should not be tied to a particular length of time. Instead, it should be as long as it needs to be—no longer and no shorter. Microlearning should focus on essential content that is “need to know” instead of “nice to know.”

Each microlearning segment should cover one or two learning objectives. It is also important to ensure that the learning objective can be covered through microlearning. Content should not be forced into microlearning segments if more time is needed to accomplish the objective.

Why Is Microlearning Effective?

The principle of learning in small, repetitive chunks has long been acknowledged as an effective method of learning skills such as a language or musical instrument. Increasingly, evidence shows microlearning to be an effective tool for workplace learning and performance. Studies have found that learners learn best and are more likely to recall learning when they can process information through small, manageable chunks instead of through a longer and more concentrated time frame.

Microlearning is often a technology-based or technology-enhanced form of training. This scientifically studied practice has only existed since the early 2000s, when computers and the Internet presented a new opportunity to support learners. The rise of mobile technology makes it even easier for learners to access microlearning segments on the go.

Microlearning can be used as performance support, where the learner accesses the segment at the point of need, such as when they perform a task that is highly complex or one they perform infrequently. Microlearning can also serve as support for longer learning. For example, learners may attend a half-day in-person training then access microlearning segments with key content if they need a refresher at a later date.

ATD’s 2017 research report Microlearning: Delivering Bite-Sized Knowledge asked respondents about the top benefits of microlearning. Forty-one percent of respondents said that the top benefit to microlearning is that learners can access it when it’s convenient, and 40 percent said that it’s less likely to overwhelm learners.

What Are Microlearning Best Practices?

ATD’s 2017 research report on microlearning outlines several microlearning best practices:

  • Make Learning Only As Long As Needed: Microlearning should be as long as it needs to be rather than bound to a particular timeframe.
  • Get Buy-In From Leaders: One-third of survey respondents whose organizations use microlearning indicated that a top barrier to effective learning is not holding learners accountable. Microlearning is often incorrectly considered to be informal or optional learning, and longer forms of learning are more likely seen as formal and required. To correct this misperception, leadership needs to support microlearning initiatives. This support will increase the likelihood that managers see microlearning as required learning, and that they hold their teams accountable for completing microlearning.
  • Identify Objectives: A first step to any training should be to identify the goal the resource is intended to help people achieve. Sometimes a microlearning resource is focused on knowledge acquisition, but the goal with microlearning is often performance support. People generally access microlearning assets to get what they need quickly to get back to work. Establishing the performance or learning objective upfront can also help talent development professionals identify whether the objective can be accomplished through microlearning or if it is suited for a different form of learning, such as in-person classroom learning or a longer e-learning module.
  • Knowledge Quizzes Are Not Always the Right Choice: Including knowledge quizzes or other forms of assessment at the end of each microlearning segment may not be an effective approach. Having to complete a quiz every time they access microlearning could frustrate learners. This also counteracts the short, just-in-time nature of microlearning.
  • Consider Integrating Hands-On Activities and Simulations: Organizations that incorporate hands-on activities or simulations into microlearning are more likely to report that their microlearning efforts are effective. These elements may be a more engaging choice than other options and can provide more variety for learning. The opportunity to practice and apply skills in a no-pressure environment can be valuable to learners even if the activity is brief.
  • Consider the Technology Environment in Which Microlearning Will Be Implemented: Talent development professionals should think about whether the content will be hosted on an LMS or elsewhere, whether and how it will be tracked, and whether it will be optional or required.

How ATD Can Help You With Microlearning

ATD’s mission is to empower professionals to develop talent in the workplace. Microlearning is one such tool to achieve this goal. ATD curates the best content from the world’s leading experts in the field, providing resources to help talent development professionals improve their organization’s microlearning strategy.

We look at talent development holistically and understand how microlearning supports its initiatives by delivering concise, just-in-time learning that provides learners with the information they need when they need it, so they can enhance their job performance.

For more information on microlearning, visit the following sites:

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