Micro-learning the term, the myth, the reality

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In this new world, there are a lot of companies moving their content into the digital space. Some people are using virtual classrooms, building e-learning or video content or even podcasts. With all this talk about online learning you may come across the term micro-learning.

So what actually is micro-learning?

Ask anybody in the world of training or L&D what micro-learning is and they will tell you what they think it is or what they have read it is.

For example, John Eades posted an article on the eLearning Industry site which explained micro-learning is a way of teaching and delivering content to learners in small, very specific bursts.

Allencomm.com posted that micro-learning is not only compact—it’s also focused, offering just the right amount of information necessary to help a learner achieve a specific, actionable objective. 

If you google ‘what is micro-learning’ you will come out with dozens of posts, articles and blogs.  Micro-learning has been around for years, probably as long as people have been learning or training others.

The past couple of years it has become a bit of a buzzword, 10 years ago I knew it as bite-size training, more recently nano-learning has started to make the rounds.

By the time you reach the end of this article, you will hopefully be a little clearer about micro-learning, what it can do and what its limitations are. So next time somebody recommends it as a way to deliver your training, you’ll be a little more confident to make the decision if this is the right type of training and ask questions about roll-out.

My view of micro-learning may be different from yours, or anybody else’s so please take this article with a pinch of salt.

Micro-learning, nano-learning and bite-sized, are they are all different?

Micro-learning is training delivered in short, sharp bursts, that is something which is consistent in the articles I have read. The different names can mean the different lengths of the training courses.

How long is a micro-learning course?

Now this is where it really is open to interpretation. For me personally, micro-learning is anything under 5 minutes. Nano-learning is 60 seconds or less and bite-size can be up to half an hour. You may be thinking, well a 30 minute course isn’t micro-learning. But think of it this way, if you have taken a 6 hour course and broken it down into 30 minute bursts, isn’t this then making it micro-learning? In my opinion I would say no, that one would be bite-sized.

Micro-learning can be in any format.

Some may say it is best as video. Some may say you can’t build a good eLearning module which is under 5 minutes. I say, micro-learning can be anything you want it to be and in any format. The main point to remember is that you should always choose a format with which your target audience will get the most benefit. For instance, if I was building systems training which needed to be micro, I wouldn’t use Storyline, WebEx, info video or classroom. I would build an interactive video using Camtasia. In my experience that would give the end user the most rewarding experience. They would be able to replay the video and click their way through it as many times as they wanted.

Micro-learning is great as people have short attention spans.

This is one that people go on and on about, and there is some truth in it. I read in an article that the average millennial has an attention span of 90 seconds! Another article had the attention span varying between different tasks. There is loads of research out there but the fact of the matter is that people will pay more attention to something that they are interested in. You can create the best 3 minute training video in the world but if your end user isn’t interested they may just skip to the end to see the conclusion or be multitasking when they should be learning.

All training has the potential to be fantastic as long as it is relevant and grabs the attention of your learner. And with micro-learning you are making your training short and snappy which could mean even the most disinterested person will stay with you for the duration of the course.


So there you have it, my thoughts on microlearning.

I know some of you may disagree with me and that’s OK. Your own experience will add to your views on this subject as have mine.

A couple of final thoughts are:

  • Don’t choose a type of training just so you can say you have it, I have heard people say they want a micro-learning course without considering if that will be the best type of course for their end user, they just want to say they have micro-learning.
  • Always consider what will be best for the end user and create the most impact for them.

Because that’s who we build training for, not the stakeholders, not the managers, not the clients, we build training for the people who need it and we have to always ensure we are using the most appropriate format, style and length.

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