Microlearning is a pretty important tool in your workplace training and performance-improvement quiver, and it's also a pretty popular buzzword in the training and L&D worlds. And yet even if there's a good chance that folks have heard the term, not everyone understands what it means.
In this article, we'll going to give you a quick explanation of what microlearning is and begin to give you some hints about how you can use it more productively at your workplace.
In addition to this article, you might also enjoy our 3 Uses of Microlearning Infographic and our Microlearning for Safety Training recorded webinar.
There's no single organization or body that creates and codifies definitions for everything in learning and development. So there's no one, single, universally accepted definition of microlearning.
So let's give you a few definitions to consider.
First, we can say microlearning is a short learning activity. That's a nice, short, and sweet definition (one might call it a microdefinition, huh)? If this is the definition you walk away with, I'm fine with that for today.
Second, we could say that microlearning is a short learning activity intended to help the learner complete a specific learning objective. I like this one.
Another, longer and more nuanced one, is from the very well-respected learning researcher Dr. Will Thalheimer, whom I admire a lot. Here's his definition of microlearning:
Relatively short engagements in learning-related activities—typically ranging from a few seconds up to 20 minutes (or up to an hour in some cases)—that may provide any combination of content presentation, review, practice, reflection, behavioral prompting, performance support, goal reminding, persuasive messaging, task assignments, social interaction, diagnosis, coaching, management interaction, or other learning-related methodologies.
So that should help you triangulate what we're talking about when we're talking about microlearning.
Not at all. People have used microlearning for a long time. Remember, we're basically just talking about a short learning activity. So that might be as simple as a toolbox talk in manufacturing or a tailgate talk in construction.
It DOES seem like folks are talking about microlearning more these days, doesn't it? That might be because we've got research-backed evidence that microlearning, especially when used in spaced practice, can improve retention and job transfer. It might also be because today's work environment has us all working more and working fast, often overloaded with information, and the small, bite-sized chunks of learning that microlearning provides fits well into our work and learning context. It might also be because we've now got computers and, even more so, handy mobile tablets and phones and these make it easier to deliver the microlearning when and where workers need it for self-guided training or performance support. And finally, it may be because we've all seen how handy and effective it is to quickly dial up a "how-to" video on something like YouTube and learn how to do something and realized we should be using this powerful tool at work as well.
No, you can deliver microlearning anyway, including through traditional face-to-face instruction. It doesn't have to be delivered through a computer or a mobile device. It's just that delivering microlearning to mobile devices has made it easier for us to make the employee a self-guided learning (think of those adult learning principles) or to deliver it to the worker at the time and place they need (think of something like the Five Moments of Need training model here).
In short, use microlearning any way (and via any training delivery method) that supports the learning objective and the workplace learning and performance need.
So you might use microlearning as one normal activity within a normal learning path, even for something like new employee onboarding. Likewise, you might use microlearning after initial training to combat the training forgetting curve and even help workers continue their learning curves (using the previously mentioned spaced learning/spaced practice method). Or, you can use microlearning not for training per se but for performance support, getting necessary information to workers while they're on the job and at the time and place they need it for application.
How can you download our 3 Uses of Microlearning infographic? Wow, glad you asked! Just click the button below to get it for yourself.