Microlearning: Bit-sized learning, big-time success [7 examples]

Manfred Rump

VIDEO With english subtitles

Who says you have to invest a lot of time to achieve great goals? Microlearning proves you don't! The concept is based on small "learning morsels" that can be flexibly integrated into the daily workflow. Find out its benefits and what it look like in practice in this article!

What is Microlearning?

Microlearning (also known as bit-sized learning) is a learning method in which content is provided to learners in small units. This method ensures that more knowledge is clearly imparted on the learner within a condensed time frame.

Unlike traditional formats such as lectures or seminars, microlearning relies on short and compact "learning bites" that employees can integrate flexibly into their daily work.

Microlearning formats can include:

Infographic on microlearning formats

Microlearning is therefore, the counterpart to macro-learning:

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Why is it worth taking a closer look at this learning format? Microlearning is becoming more common within digital learning experiences because it is considered an antidote against the forgetting curve!

Microlearning vs. Forgetting Curve

In 1885, the German psychologist Dr. Hermann Ebbinghaus noted that there is a learning curve in the acquisition of new information and skills. According to him, knowledge is lost over time if it is not continuouslly supported or put into practice.

Infographic on the forgetting curve according to Ebbinghaus

In order to consolidate knowledge, it must be repeated, relearned, reviewed and (re)applied. Furthermore, microlearning is applicable to both the initial imparting of knowledge, as well as to its reviewing.

If a learning path, i.e. a teaching unit consisting of individual learning steps, is equipped with short, ideally entertaining learning units, new impulses can be set continuously and knowledge can be reactivated. The increased learning effects of short learning units compared to long ones have been scientifically proven.

But that is not the only reason why microlearning is increasingly being used to train employees.

The Advantages of Microlearning

According to the eLearning BENCHMARKING Study 2021, more than every second company is already using microlearning, and the top reasons for this, according to the study, are:

  1. Easy integration into the daily work routine (79.1%)
  2. Increased motivation (69.8%)
  3. Better modularizability of the offer (42.2%)

Microlearning also offers a wide range of benefits for employees and companies, making it an increasingly popular learning method.

4 benefits for employees:

  • Time-saving: Microlearning units can be completed in just a few minutes. This saves time and allows learners to focus on other important job tasks.
  • Attention-grabbing: Microlearning addresses the attention span deficit, which is becoming shorter according to studies, and reaches employees by presenting the information in a compact and entertaining way.
  • Availability: Digital microlearning units can be completed anytime, anywhere via smartphone and internet access. This makes learning easier for employees who often travel and want flexible learning schedules.
  • Just-in-time learning: when employees acutely need a specific skill, they can learn for it specifically with microlearning.

4 benefits for companies:

  • Scalability: Once created, digital microlearning units can be used as often as needed.
  • Motivation: Studies show that short learning units are more appealing to employees.
  • Flexibility: Microlearning can be used in a variety of formats and on a wide range of topics.
  • Efficiency: Employees' learning time is shortened, while learning opportunities increase due to availability.

All in all, it is a user-centered learning format that is designed to the different needs of each individual employee, so that learning is made effective, flexible, accessible, and engaging.

Moreover, it can act as a building block and combined with additional learning method variations, which together create a blended learning approach.

Let's now take a look at when a company can use microlearning.

The Application Possibilities of Microlearning

Companies can use microlearning in many places to support employees in their learning process - both for informal and formal learning. Here are a few suggestions:

Onboarding

Microlearning can be used to introduce new employees to a company. For example, team members can use short videos to introduce newcomers to the tasks and working methods in the individual departments.

Short learning modules can be used to quickly and easily convey information about the most important areas of responsibility, working principles and processes within the company.

Product Training

Various microlearning formats can be used for product training. Short "how to" videos can be a great way to train employees on the product. Infographics and infotexts on specific features of a software can convey benefits or use cases.

Upskilling

How do I communicate more confidently? How do I improve my time management? How do I get the most out of Microsoft Excel? Microlearning content is suitable for improving very specific skills – and in a very targeted way.

Whether it's a video, presentation, or infographic – the "learning bites" are big enough for a specific topic. Therein lies the strength of microlearning: employees consciously focus on developing a specific skill.

Refreshing and Expanding Knowledge

Microlearning can also be used to remind employees of what they have previously learned or to provide them with additional information. This can be done in the form of summaries or knowledge quizzes after a course.

What does this look like in practice? In the following, we show various examples from the professional context and everyday life, which you can also try out in your company with relatively little effort.

Inspirations for microlearning from everyday life

We all encounter microlearning in our (working) everyday life, from the operating instructions of a fire extinguisher, to explanatory texts at the ticket vending machine, to even Twitter messages. Wherever things have to be done quickly, we also find inspirations for microlearning that can be transferred to professional learning environments.

Here are four digital examples:

1. Infographics: Data Visualizations

Infographics can be used to explain complex topics when they are creative and cleverly designed. In this graphic for example, the current population of the earth is very clearly set in relation to past generations, so that users can learn important key data on human population development within a few minutes.

Infographic as example for microlearning

How can this be used within a company?

  • Product training: Visual step-by-step instructions for complex machines
  • Onboarding: Timelines of the company history
  • Knowledge refresher: Data visualizations with the most important key figures on a specific topic

2. Micro Copy: Tweets

Those who follow the "right" channels in social networks are served snippets of knowledge every day. The Twitter account "Verrückte Geschichte" regularly publishes short summaries of curious highlights from history.

Tweet as example for microlearning

How can this be used in a company?

  • Upskilling: Short summaries of relevant industry studies via e-mail or internal chat tool to the workforce.

3. Micro Copies: Infocopy in Software

What does which button mean? How does which feature work? Companies with a digital business model help their employees and customers learn about new features or understand how they work as quickly as possible by providing text-based, highly contextual information.

In this example from Google Docs, a mouseover of the camera icon displays the information that the selected button can be used to share documents directly in a call.

Infocopy in software as example for microlearning

How can this be used in a company?

  • Product training: Companies with a digital product, such as software, can use help texts that appear on mouseover or after clicking on an info icon to explain how a particular page aspect works to employees and customers. Of course, this is also conceivable in analog form, e.g. through short text notes or instructions on devices that require explanation.

4. FAQ: Frequently asked Questions and their Answers

The most frequently asked questions and their answers, collected on one page: Many companies offer such an area on their website to help users and - of course - to relieve customer service. After all, the same questions don't have to be answered over and over again.

 FAQ page as example for microlearning

How can this be used in a company?

  • Onboarding: New employees at the company naturally have many questions about operational processes in the first few weeks. Companies can collect these questions and put them on a corresponding FAQ page, for example on the intranet. In this way, newcomers are presented with a lot of information visually, either via text or short video. In addition to the increase in knowledge for the employees, L&D managers are also relieved.

3 Examples of Microlearning at Masterplan

Microlearning is also used throughout Masterplan's Learning Engagement Platform:

1. Short Learning Videos

On the Learning Engagement Platform Masterplan, learners can access over 4,000 lessons. The individual video units range in length from 3 to 12 minutes and are each dedicated to a specific topic or aspect.

Depending on the specifications, employees can complete courses completely freely or within previously defined topic areas - according to their own preferences and at their own pace.

Our in-house produced Masterplan Shorts are particularly effective, with a maximum length of 5 minutes. They already fall under the heading of nano-learning and are a particularly good example of how learning content can be conveyed in a compact and entertaining way:

"Effective learning only takes place with a high level of attention. We are conditioned by digital sensory overload to only pay attention to content that a) gets to the point and b) doesn't bore us. With our shorts, we offer a precise, entertaining way to dive into a topic - and make us want more."
Lena Kuschke, Head of Content, Masterplan

2. Quick Quizzes

On Masterplan, quizzes can be used for a knowledge check after a video lesson. The quizzes often consist of multiple-choice questions or drag-and-drop formats, such as  for putting terms in the correct order.

 Masterplan quiz as example for microlearning

3. Brief Summaries

Course completed and back to the daily grind? Short summaries, for example in the form of OnePagers in PDF format, help learners to internalize what they have learned.

This gives learners the opportunity to review the course content at their leisure and recall the most important aspects.

Masterplan course summary as example for microlearning

First Steps for L&D Managers to Try Microlearning

Microlearning works and our examples above are the proof! Or did you know before that over 100 billion people have already lived on earth?

But back to your company: What is the best way to integrate microlearning measures into the daily work of your employees? We have summarized the most important points:

  1. Define learning objectives: Make sure you determine in advance in what area and for what purpose microlearning will be used. Our examples will help you to get a first orientation which format is suitable for which cases.
  2. Consider target group: Who will the microlearning measure address? Age and media competence must be taken into account when selecting the format, as must the area of work.
  3. Start test run: The best way to start is step by step with a small test project, for example with a video unit for onboarding in which employees introduce the company departments to newcomers.
  4. Obtain feedback: Are the video introductions helpful for orientation? Is a digital fact sheet on the newly introduced process understandable? Asking for feedback helps to further adapt the measures to the needs of the learners.
  5. Scaling microlearning: Does the newly introduced microlearning improve the learning experience? Then it is important to expand the measures accordingly!

3 Mistakes You Should Avoid When Implementing Microlearning

In addition to all the benefits that microlearning brings, this learning format comes with some challenges that we need to look at:

1. Do Not Blindly Start

Videos, infographics, podcasts – microlearning units are sometimes associated with an increased conception and production effort. It is therefore important not only to keep learning objectives and target group in mind, but also to weigh up the selection of content.

To ensure that the effort pays off, microlearning should initially address learning topics that are as timeless as possible and can also be used in the long term.

2. Don't Be Too Intrusive

Microlearning should serve the transfer of knowledge in the sense of the learners and meet their needs. However, too many questions, too many alerts, too many "bites" at once are difficult to digest.

Be sure to use content where it makes sense and helps learners, rather than overwhelming them.

However, microlearning can of course function very well as a series of individual units for teaching a complex of topics - provided that the video courses also build on each other in terms of content.

3. Not too much at once

One core idea per unit - that should be the rule of thumb when designing microlearning. Too much information or the mixing of topics within a learning unit can cloud the learning effect and end up raising more questions than answers.

For orientation, here's another Masterplan Short, which is all about effectively structuring content:

Microlearning - Short and Sweet, and Effective!

Microlearning is becoming increasingly important in the context of professional learning as flexibility advances. Flexible working locations, hours, a change in media consumption affect learning – for it to really work, it must adapt to employee requirements.

Microlearning addresses these changes, making it a promising and forward-looking form of learning that L&D managers should not neglect.

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Manfred Rump

Manfred Rump is Senior Content Marketing Manager at Masterplan. In the blog, he shares insights from his conversations with learning experts and highlights current learning trends in companies.
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