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Smaller Sometimes Means Better: 13 Benefits of Microlearning

December 16, 2020


The way we learn and live has changed dramatically over the course of a few months.

So much, in fact, that people have turned to online learning platforms for upskilling and reskilling themselves. Why? Well, since mid-March of 2020, there have been over 20.6 million job losses in the US alone.

More alarmingly, 42% of these job losses will be permanent – meaning that there won't be a job to come back to once the pandemic is over, resulting in career pivots en masse.

Reskilling and retooling have always been important, especially since technological advances have increased by leaps and bounds since the turn of the century. However, with an overwhelming number of livelihoods in flux, there is no doubt that upskilling is even more of a priority for many right now.

With in-person education no longer an option, many have turned to online alternatives. However, online training has gained a bad reputation for having low retention and completion rates.

Thankfully, this isn't the case for all forms of online education. In fact, microlearning makes the transfer of information 17% more efficient and increases employee engagement in workplace learning by 50%.

What is microlearning?

Microlearning is a subset of neuroeducation – a field of study that brings together neuroscientists, psychologists, educators, and technologists to further our understanding of how we learn things. It's essentially education gone meta. However, it's advancing in this field that will help us learn faster, retain more information, and apply our knowledge better.

Microlearning is a concise, concentrated learning designed to meet a particular learning outcome. Modules are typically created to be three to six minutes long and consist of rich media such as videos, quizzes, and games.

This learning format is well-suited to online training, as it offers the flexibility and convenience sought by today's time-strapped learners.

Microlearning has been shown to increase engagement and boost knowledge retention while also cutting development costs by half. With stats like these, it is no wonder that eight out of 10 L&D professionals prefer microlearning education for their learners.

What does microlearning look like?

Microlearning courses can take on many forms depending on the subject matter and how the course creators intend the learners to learn.

Microlearning building blocks can be made up of any number of the following types of content:

  • Video: Ideally fewer than six minutes long. These bite-sized videos usually cover a specific objective in a concise way that aims to minimize cognitive overload. Learners should be able to easily follow and digest what is being presented.
  • Audio: Particularly useful for aural learners. Like video-based content, audio should be presented in small portions with the aim of enabling learners to digest with ease.
  • Text: Cheat sheets and summaries. This can be used to complement video or audio-based content. The intention should not be to overwhelm learners with excessive written content. In the same way video or audio should be succinct, this should be too.
  • Images: Charts, diagrams, and illustrations. Incorporate these wherever possible for an even more engaging learning experience.
  • Quizzes: To add an element of interactivity. Each bite-sized lesson can have a quiz as a way to test knowledge in the moment, rather than solely at the end of a longer course.
  • Gamification: Unlocking levels to add further interactivity. This element can increase learner engagement by enabling a more fun and rewarding learning experience.

Benefits of microlearning for businesses

When it comes to any business decision, including learning and development initiatives, the bottom line plays a significant role. Not only is microlearning better for retention, but it's also less expensive than most other learning initiatives. Here are some reasons why you should consider investing in microlearning for your business:

Better ROI

As mentioned earlier, online learning is often associated with low retention and completion rates. This is not the case with microlearning. Almost three-quarters of employees (74%) voluntarily engage in 106 microlearning training sessions per year.

Over half of survey respondents indicated that they would use their company's learning tools more often if the courses were shorter. According to them, the longer courses are more challenging to digest, but taking them also gets in the way of their workday.

Lego-like lesson blocks

Due to the compact nature of microlearning modules, they can more easily be updated or replaced. This also means that they are less costly to produce than more conventional forms of Ph.D.ining, such as seminars, workshops, courses, and conferences.

According to learning expert, Ray Jimenez, Ph.D., in his book Three-minute eLearning, L&D teams that utilize microlearning can reduce development costs by 50% and increase the speed of development by 300%.

This is because:

  • There are fewer overheads in micro-course creation as there are in traditional offline training. For example, there is no need to rent classrooms, pay for instructors' time, and purchase classroom equipment.
  • It is easier and faster to update digital content, especially if the content is concise and modular. Businesses can replace outdated content with updated lessons without overhauling the entire course. The same way lego blocks can be switched out and moved around.

Shorter courses are easier to distribute

Microlearning modules are far easier to upload and share on the cloud than longer-form lessons. This is because the file sizes are smaller and don't require too much bandwidth to download.

Reusable learning objects (RLO)

RLOs are learning resources that can be reused for multiple purposes. These are self-contained resources that can both stand-alone or be integrated as a part of a larger course and still make sense. Microlearning provides an easy opportunity for the development of RLOs. Those bite-sized components of a particular course can be tailored to be reusable elsewhere.

This can save time, effort, and can reduce the cost of development. Rather than duplicating the development of course content, you can simply integrate those bite-sized components where they might fit into other courses, or you can use them on their own for different purposes.

Learning that caters to diverse needs

One size does not fit all. That is something that your learning and development strategy should always take into account. People have different learning needs. Microlearning offers flexibility to learners who wish to engage in different ways.

Some of your staff will be limited by time, or attention-span, and prefer to learn in small chunks. Whereas other staff members may have more time available, or prefer to learn in longer sessions – “binge-learning” perhaps, in the vein of binge-watching. Microlearning caters to the person who can only commit to five minutes at a time without limiting the person who can do more lessons that make up a larger course.

This structure of microlearning also empowers the learner to engage at their own pace. One person might choose to do each lesson at a set time once per week, or focus on specific lessons most relevant to their tasks that week, while another person might prefer to do it all in one go.

Microlearning also caters to in-house, remote, or on-the-go learning. Someone can learn from their desk in the office, while someone else learns on the commute home from their mobile device. If you are catering to a diverse group of learners, microlearning offers options that can allow you to satisfy different needs.

Easier to create a learning culture

Are you eager to create a strong learning culture in your organization? The attractiveness of microlearning creates greater opportunities for businesses to integrate learning into their culture.

Microlearning presents individual advantages to each learner which increases the natural willingness of staff to engage. Since the willingness to engage already exists you’ll simply need to provide the resources and the time.

You have an added advantage with the fact that content exists in concise packages, which means a huge investment of time would not be necessary. You can allow staff to schedule a small amount of time per day for learning purposes.

Benefits of microlearning for individual learners

Microlearning boasts many benefits for learners, including better retention, personalized learning, and higher engagement. Here are some reasons why individuals are drawn to microlearning:

Information is available at the point of need

Have you ever used Google Maps to find a coffee shop in a neighbourhood you were exploring? Or compared prices for a pair of sneakers you've been coveting? Or looked up the contact information of your local politician?

If you have said yes to any of the questions above, you've engaged with some form of just-in-time learning. Microlearning courses can be utilized to do something similar.

Imagine you're a sales representative and a customer calls in asking about a super obscure package. Having access to a module that specifically addresses that product, as opposed to a 60-minute training video, will help you (and your customer) address the issue efficiently.

Microlearning equips learners to acquire skills and access resources as soon as they need them. This way of learning is particularly useful for employees who need information on the spot. This is the case in industries such as healthcare, retail, or call centers.

Learning becomes highly personalized

Think back to the last time you learned something in a classroom-setting. There were likely some concepts you grasped quickly and some that you may have needed more time to understand.

This is because classroom courses are designed to match the average pace of learning in the room. While this generally works, it also means that fast learners can lose interest in the content, while slower learners fall behind and have to learn in their own time. Microlearning eliminates this problem because learners can study the content at their own pace and skip modules they have already mastered.

Information is retained for longer

According to Hermann Ebbinghaus' 'Forgetting Curve' theory, we forget 80% of what we have learned within 30 days. This means traditional forms of learning may have limited ROI for businesses who are investing money and learners who are investing their time. However, microlearning can supplement traditional training like this to extend the lifespan of information learnt.

Microlearning improves knowledge retention for three important reasons: information is accessible on-demand, modules are bite-sized, and they are designed to be actionable. As opposed to classroom-based training, microlearning courses can be accessed out in the wild, meaning that information can be acquired at the point of need, which increases its stickiness.

Learning can take place virtually anywhere

Microlearning courses are highly portable. This means learners could start a module on their work computer, access it on their mobile during their commute, and continue learning on a tablet computer when they're at home.

The ability to learn any time and anywhere democratizes upskilling for those who are especially time-poor, such as new parents and commuters. There is a high level of microlearning adoption in retail (27%), manufacturing & logistics (25%), and finance & insurance (22%), as well as telecommunications, healthcare, call centers, and pharmaceuticals. The report attributes this trend to the "disproportionately large concentration of deskless workers" in these industries.

Learning can become more engaging

Each micro-lesson is intended to achieve a specific learning outcome. This equips course creators with the flexibility to utilize engaging mediums and methods of teaching, such as videos, storytelling, and games.

Gamification tactics can also be integrated into microlearning. Learners can earn awards or 'experience' points to make learning more fun. That same report found that "employees exposed to gameplay and game mechanics participate at a rate of 52 percent more, experiencing average knowledge increases of 27 percent."


Microlearning meets busy 21st century learners where they are while addressing the needs of the future. It helps that it also comes with a multitude of benefits for learners and businesses alike.

The most striking benefit is the fact that it presents vast opportunities for cost savings in learning and development, without failing to enable a very meaningful experience for the end-user. It’s a win-win for both learners and businesses.

Plus, 81% of the organizations surveyed are currently using or planning to begin using, microlearning to support their employees. If you haven’t yet considered this for your organization perhaps it’s time to start.

Smaller Sometimes Means Better: 13 Benefits of Microlearning The benefits of microlearning are being brought to new light with the way things have changed in the year 2020. Learn why microlearning benefits not only your employees, but your entire business model, too.
Krystal Tolani Krystal Tolani does all things marketing at GoSkills, an online learning company that helps anyone learn business skills to reach their personal and professional goals.

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