We All Use Many Types of Microlearning — Every Day

Microlearning is everywhere. Think about the last time you used microlearning. 

No, it probably wasn’t that training you completed for your job. 

It might have been looking up how to fix something at home or reading an infographic on your city’s new plan to reroute traffic. Perhaps you googled the meaning of a term you encountered in a recipe or the best brand of eco-friendly window cleaner. 

All of these are examples of the types of microlearning we’ve incorporated into our daily routines.

Successful microlearning provides the depth of information needed at that moment

The truth is that we all want to learn and understand the world around us. But we don’t want or need to become experts. We look for information at different depths:

  • Google often answers a query with something called a “featured snippet.” This provides a quick “one-shot” answer to our question. For many basic searches, this is enough. You can get a weather forecast or find out which team won a match or define a term or identify a famous person this way. 
  • If you need a little more information, you might look for a “listicle” or other short article that offers short, focused bits of information that are easy and quick to read and understand.
  • Need to go deeper still? At this point, you might be ready to skim a longer article, read a Wikipedia entry or scan an infographic.

Many formats lead to successful microlearning

We use different levels and types of microlearning every day. The following paragraphs describe a variety of formats used for microlearning.

Short videos and animations

Short videos are ideal for showing a process or demonstrating how to do something. They are also a great way to capture an expert’s take on something — an interview where an expert explains a concept is easy to share and review. 

Screencasting videos are a helpful way to teach software use and shortcuts. 

Animations, created with free or low-cost tools, offer an inexpensive way to explain concepts, present information, tell a story, share a scenario, and more, using short, engaging videos. 

Conversational chatbots

A silver toy robot "talking" on an old, red rotary phone.

Chatbots are popping up everywhere. They provide basic customer support, tutorials and problem solving for all kinds of products. 

Chatbots answer new students’ or new employees’ questions during onboarding and orientation. Sometimes, the learners don’t even know that they’re not chatting with a person!

Text-message based microlearning 

Text-message-based eLearning is ideal in areas with poor internet access. It’s also a quick and easy way to present simple instructional content or answer questions.

A short series of text messages can present information and concepts. Then learners can answer questions to apply the information and strengthen their retention.

Podcasts 

Many learners spend a lot of time commuting or driving to client sites. Others are drivers whose only workplace is a truck or delivery van. Getting training to these learners is a challenge!

Why not let them learn during their “windshield time” with short engaging audio stories?

Podcasts are a truly mobile-first format that is flexible and engaging. 

Infographics

An infographic offers at-a-glance information to teach or refresh prior learning. These are great performance aids, since they help workers remember what to do without pulling them away from their work.

Short eLearning courses

Who says an eLearning course has to have 12 chapters and take an hour to complete? A 5-minute course might be just what learners need to solve a problem or remember complex learning they completed a while ago.

The same familiar authoring tools used to create comprehensive eLearning courses do double duty as microlearning development tools. 

Learning games

A close up of a Go board game. A hand is placing a black stone on the board.

Microlearning games can take many formats and appear as apps, within dedicated microlearning platforms, on laptops and within eLearning courses. The possibilities are endless.

Games engage learners in a variety of ways, but often include questions and activities that call for learners to interact in some way, rather than simply reading text. Game-based microlearning often includes additional elements such as the ability to move up to increasingly challenging “levels,” earn points or badges, or compete with colleagues or on teams.

Content created specifically as learning games or serious games can be delivered as microlearning, whether providing information and clues to learners, guiding them on a scavenger hunt, or using a different learning game approach. 

Mini-scenarios

Adding mini-scenarios to microlearning makes it interactive and helps learners apply informational content to real-life situations they will encounter on the job.

A mini scenario can be a sentence or two describing something that could happen: A bank customer is upset over a fee that has been charged; a fire drill goes off while you are consulting with a patient.

After presenting the short scenario, the microlearning then allows the learner to choose a response. The learner gets feedback telling them why their choice would or would not work. They might get to try other possible responses to see how each plays out.

Scenario-based learning helps learners transfer training content to on-the-job application.

Curated online content

A library of carefully vetted content can include microlearning in any format — video, audio, text, infographic — and offer quick references and refreshers to workers in the workflow. 

These tools can teach, remind, answer questions and solve problems. An expert from your L&D department or an SME can create and maintain these lists of resources, ensuring that the material is accurate, up-to-date, and based on solid research.

Short documents or articles

Alone or as part of a library of curated content, short documents, including articles and interactive PDFs, are a quick way for learners to get just the depth of knowledge they need.

Emailed newsletters

Marketers understand the power of repeated contact. Learning science knows that spaced repetition aids retention. Use email to send short articles and newsletters that highlight essential information, answer common questions and remind learners of essential company values, policies or practices.

Immersive scenarios

Creating a 360-degree video or short immersive training experience takes more effort than writing a document or filming a short video, but the impact of immersive learning can last longer and change learners’ behavior.

Microlearning videos remain a favorite content format

Watching even a short video requires a time commitment — a minute, three minutes, maybe more. Many of us will do this only if we want deep information or need to see how something is done before we attempt it ourselves.

Many learners love microlearning videos. And microlearning videos are a fantastic option for many types of learning. But we also prize efficiency and quick answers. For immediate questions, the solution may be more easily available in a variety of formats.

Microlearning videos are everywhere

An overhead view of downtown Bangkok, Thailand at night with a series of thin, white lines all connecting to each other overlaid. At various points where the lines meet, white map pin markers appear.

YouTube, the now-defunct Vine, Vimeo and similar platforms triggered  the explosion of short videos that we still experience. 

Microlearning videos are ubiquitous. YouTube is an obvious place to look when you want to learn how to do something, but microlearning videos pop up in schools and offices everywhere on many different microlearning platforms. 

But, just as not all microlearning is video, not all short videos are microlearning. A short video becomes a microlearning video when it teaches a small unit of information or how to do something in a focused, useful manner.

It’s possible to use microlearning videos to learn how to fix things around the house, replace the toner in your office copier, transplant a rose bush or solve a physics problem. In fact, early samples of successful microlearning appear on websites like Khan Academy, which started with primarily math and science lessons. The site, and many others like it, offer short video lessons to students everywhere.

Why use microlearning videos?

A microlearning video can:

  • Raise awareness of or promote interest in a topic. Learners might then enroll in a course that could be made up of additional microlearning videos—or follow any other eLearning format.
  • Explain a concept or term. Microlearning videos are an ideal way to provide a bit of background or context that learners might need to apply on the job. These short microlearning videos can stand on their own as performance supports for employees or students. They can also be part of larger courses consisting of many micro units, video or not, that convey a deeper knowledge of a topic.
  • Capture the steps of using a piece of software. Many screencasting apps are available to record the steps as the instructor goes through them on their computer. The instructor then adds a voice over that explains the goal and the steps.
  • Capture a non-computerized process. Short videos for anything from changing a tire to making jam are easily found online and in many languages.
  • Tell a story. An animated video can tell a story or explain an idea.
  • Share the knowledge of experts. A short interview or excerpt that conveys a complicated explanation in the expert’s own words can be valuable in many contexts. Learners can replay the video on demand, rather than bothering the expert with repeated questions. Videos can be available in a searchable library and provide information to workers who are geographically dispersed, easily sharing and spreading knowledge throughout a large organization.

However, learners may not want to use video for everything. They might be someplace where they can’t play the audio or lack a screen for viewing. They may worry that a video will  disturb others. And, some learners — or any learner in specific instances — may simply prefer to read the answer to their query. That’s why there are so many types of successful microlearning.

Text-based microlearning is ideal for quick reference

Many people want to look up information quickly and get on with their work. Text-based microlearning offers a quick reference. It’s a format that is easy to refer back to and that learners can use pretty much anywhere. In fact, the vast majority of microlearning is some form of text-based learning. 

 Text-based microlearning examples include:

  • Short, informative documents and articles can be provided to learners and employees as printed text, interactive PDFs, or online content with links to additional materials.
  • Single-page infographics illustrate and explain a short process, offering at-a-glance help. An infographic can present data or annotated diagrams, show the flow of a process or a decision with possible outcomes, offer a timeline, or compare items.
  • Printed or emailed newsletters update and inform learners, customers, and anyone interested in the goings-on of an organization.
  • Organizations’ learning & development teams might maintain topical curated content sites to offer resources and vetted information to employees. Short content items are easy to update or replace as newer information becomes available.  
  • Text-message or chatbot-based conversational exchanges where learners get snippets of information, ask and answer questions, and reinforce what they’ve learned.

Mobile-first microlearning suits modern learners

Close-up of a woman's hands holding a smartphone.

While most microlearning can be accessed and used on mobile devices or laptop or desktop computers, several types of microlearning are designed explicitly for mobile use. Mobile-first microlearning includes text- or chatbot-based apps, games, and AR apps.

A text-based microlearning course might send short snippets of information to learners’ smartphones or tablets, and ask them questions about the content. Or, like OttoLearn, it could consist primarily of activities that ask learners to apply information. Chatbot-based microlearning engages learners in a “conversation,” generally on their smartphones, that could also include conveying information and testing learners’ understanding or recall.

Successful microlearning

Microlearning examples are everywhere. Any short, useful content that teaches or explains, solves a problem, or answers a question can be considered microlearning. Key features of successful microlearning have less to do with format than with function. Consider these microlearning principles and features:

  • Focus on identifying specific questions or problems learners may face; then answer them in a concise and focused way.
  • Microlearning provides rapid access to the exact piece of information the learner is looking for in the moment. Searchability is key; learners need to be able to find the right content quickly.
  • Creating microlearning is a great way for instructional designers to distill content to the essential elements, removing extraneous detail and explanation.
  • Microlearning excels as performance support or just-in-time assistance, when an employee is looking for solutions—not education.

Since you and your learners are already interacting with at least of these types of microlearning on a daily basis – why not offer formal training structured similarly? For more information on how we could help establish microlearning content as a form of training at your organization – reach one of microlearning experts today!

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