Microlearning: A Comprehensive Guide & Tips for Your Courses

It’s late on a Friday when your boss drops the latest big idea. “We need microlearning! We’re already behind the curve.” It’s been a long week. Your guard is down and you bite. “Why?” you ask. And the hype begins.

Your boss has been to a conference. Everyone is on the microlearning train! It’s the only way to capture people’s attention! No more long, boring courses! People don’t have time to learn! If they can’t get it in five minutes, they’re not going to get it in 30!

Before you know it, the learning strategy you’ve been working on for the last three years has shifted.

Hang on! This is worth a pause to ask what microlearning is all about, determine where it fits in your learning strategy (it’s very likely not the only solution), and then figure out how to do it well. Through this guide, we’re going to explore microlearning through the following points:

Let’s get started.

What is Microlearning?

Determining what you mean by “microlearning” is a good place to start. Let’s come up with a working microlearning definition. 

Micro: small; extremely small; teeny.

Learning: acquiring knowledge (verb); knowledge acquired (noun)

This needs some work. In the e-learning industry, microlearning has been a buzzword for many years. It generally refers to relatively short e-learning courses. You might also hear it called chunkable learning, bite-sized learning, mini courses, microlessons, etc.

To define effective microlearning, we need to add its purpose, which is to teach a single skill or change a previously held single mindset. Effective microlearning has a laser focus on a specific topic.

Microlearning isn’t about making your course smaller, it’s about making your goal smaller.

At Artisan Learning, we work with clients regularly who start out focused on the time it takes a learner to complete the course. We get requests like, “We are looking for 5-minute microlessons…”

It makes sense to think this way especially when you imagine learners taking your courses.

We believe learners when they say things like, “I need to get the information faster.” or “I just don’t have time to fit it all in.” We need to ask ourselves if they’re also saying, “I need a way to get the learning I need when I need it.”

What if microlearning were less about time and more about a focused approach to content? At Artisan, we say that microlearning isn’t about making your course smaller, it’s about making your goal smaller.

Microlearning Research: Why the Hype?

Let’s be honest. The world of training has been asking, “Can we train people faster?” for years. Long gone are the days of the vast majority of corporate training taking place in five-day, off-site meetings. Five days gave way to three. Then there was the rise of the one-day seminar. All the while, the learning objectives didn’t change.

Along came e-learning, and efficiency was the name of the game. We still tell our clients that converting an instructor-led class to e-learning generally means cutting the time in half.

The efficiency of e-learning made it rise to the forefront of training and development, and we’re seeing the same occur with microlearning. In fact, The ATD Research report “Microlearning: Delivering Bite-Sized Knowledge” found that 40% of the study’s almost 600 participating organizations currently use microlearning. Of those 228 organizations, 92% expect their use of it to increase over the next year. Even further, of the 60% of participating organizations that don’t use microlearning, 41% expect that they will start.

Let’s look at some meaningful microlearning research that helps unpack its popularity:

  • We are conditioned to it. What was the last thing you learned? Where did you go to get it? How long did it take? The last thing I learned was how to use PowerPoint to make icons. I watched a four and a half minute video on YouTube. The great news is I made an icon! Did you go to YouTube or Google for your last bit of learning?
  • It offers a just-in-time solution. Have you ever had to have a difficult conversation? What if just before going into that conversation, you could access a bite-sized training on key phrases to de-escalate a situation? It’s just in time and it’s applicable to a specific need.
  • It offers practice and repetition. If you ever pulled an all-nighter to pass a test, you’ve likely experienced the information leaving your brain at about the time you turned in your test. Microlearning offers practice and repetition on a singular subject. The more you practice in small increments, the more likely you are to retain the knowledge.

But, whether you’re using microlearning or not, the underlying goal of developing talent remains the same. A five-minute course that teaches you nothing is a waste of five minutes.

Microlearning Benefits: For Your Learners and Your Organization

The popularity of microlearning tells us that both learners and organizations are realizing the benefits. A well-executed microlearning strategy mirrors the way we are conditioned to seek information. For learners, this means learning or practicing skills when they need them. The manufacturing industry has seen the benefit of just-in-time product delivery for years. Learning and development can do the same.

  • Learning meets real-time needs.
  • Application takes place almost immediately.
  • Training and development is time well spent as learners can easily connect the learning to their needs.
  • Learner engagement increases as the value of the learning increases.
  • Specifically focused learning can be developed rapidly.
  • Narrowing the focus of learning forces companies to cut out extraneous material they’ve been teaching because “that’s how we’ve always done it.”

When should you consider using microlearning?

Microlearning isn’t the only solution. There is still a case to be made for long-form training as not all learning can be effectively accomplished in small segments.

  • When your goal can be reduced to a singular focus. For example, if you’re preparing learners for an industry certification, chances are good that they’ll need a long-form, deep dive into various topics. This is not a great use-case for microlearning. You could, however, combine strategies and build a long course for the in-depth training and microlessons for memory-based training on a particular subject.
  • When the goal is to practice a singular skill. Understanding theory and putting it into practice are very different learning strategies. A learner may “get it” but not be able to “do it.” Microlearning is an effective way to practice a single skill. We often build microlearning skillbuilders to accompany other forms of learning. This could be a supplement to journal articles, a follow-up to in-person training, or a way to practice a singular skill in a larger body of training.
  • As a booster to remember annual long-form training. As training professionals, we often have to deploy annual training. By the time our learners need to apply the training, months could have passed. Consider microlearning boosters. For example, your learners take annual health and safety training. Six months later, when a learner is leading a meeting that includes a plant tour, she takes a short booster to ensure the participants meet all safety standards for the tour.
  • When developing product knowledge training. If your employees, members, or volunteers need to get up to speed on your products fast, microlearning may be a great vehicle. Rather than burying product lines in a training that takes several hours to complete, consider a microlearning approach. Build an effective and efficient template and rapidly deploy product-based training.

With so many benefits to microlearning, you might be asking yourself, “Why doesn’t everyone use microlearning all the time? Why wouldn’t you choose it over traditional e-learning?” 

There are actually situations where microlearning wouldn’t be the best choice. 

Remember that microlearning consists of small, focused learning on one particular topic. It is excellent for mastery over a specific skill. Think of it this way, if a department store is onboarding a new employee about all of the processes and policies in the company, you’d want a traditional e-learning course. If you want to teach that same employee how to catch a shoplifter in the department store, you could use microlearning to focus on that one specific topic. You also don’t want to use it just because it’s “in” right now. Be sure that your focus is truly on how to best relay the information you need to present to your audience. Can your content be broken down into smaller chunks and still make sense? If your answer is no, move away from the idea of microlearning.

Simulations, interactive PDFs, and gamification are all types of microlearning.

Top Types of Microlearning Content


A powerful way for a learner to practice something before they actually have to do it on the job is with a simulation. It can offer your employees a way to safely make a mistake, learn from their mistake, and then try again.

For instance, if you require your employees to operate a large piece of machinery in a factory, you could use a simulator to make sure employees aren’t just reading about how to use the machine safely, they’re getting hands-on practice.

Interactive PDFs

It might seem a little boring to present a learner with an average job aid, but what if that weren’t just a static picture on their computer screen? What if, by selecting a link, your employees could bring up additional information within that PDF? 

Suddenly, something that seems average is taken up a level just by adding that bit of interaction.


Sometimes even the simplest of concepts are taken up a notch with a game. There’s something about a simple game on a computer that makes us all feel like a kid again. Providing an aspect of fun to the learner can help keep their focus and also drive home important components of your training.

When we’re having fun, sometimes we don’t even realize we’re learning!

Microlearning: 5 Strategies for Effective Bite-Sized Content

Let’s go back to that conversation with your boss one Friday afternoon. Hopefully, by now, you sense that a full switch to microlearning isn’t going to be the best choice. Instead, incorporating microlearning into your overall strategy is. That said, you still need some help when it comes to creating effective microlessons.

1. Narrow your focus to fit within a microlearning experience.

Be specific and narrow your focus. Ask “What problem are we trying to solve?” If your answer is something like, “Our membership is down and we need training on how to recruit,” you’re still too broad for microlearning. However, you could build a series of short lessons teaching your team to:

  • Increase membership renewals
  • Market to recent college graduates
  • Communicate the value of membership

2. Make the most of interactive learning experiences.

One of the biggest mistakes training developers make when it comes to microlearning is determining the type of experience before determining the need. You know this is happening when someone suggests, “We should build a game (or a scenario, or a video, etc.) that…”

Before you decide how you’re going to train, answer some key questions:

  • What problem is the training intended to help with?
  • What will learners do when they are applying what they learned?
  • What’s your dream state? If the problem went away, what would that look like?
  • Are you changing a mindset or developing a skill?
  • What do your learners need most to help them get it (motivation, practice, personalization, etc.)?

These answers guide you to the format. Now you can ask, what’s the best way to get there? Why build a game when an infographic will do?

To make the most of the interactive experiences you can provide, first be clear on what you’re trying to affect.

3. Consider connecting your microlearning with other educational content.

Microlearning is very likely a part of a solution, not a comprehensive solution. Using microlearning to enhance your offering may be a much more effective choice than changing your offering.

When clients come to us saying “Our courses are too long, and we’d like to chunk them into microlearning,” a little warning buzzer goes off in our heads. While chunking long courses into shorter ones will make them shorter, it will not necessarily make them better. Would it be a better use of your training dollars to reconfigure what you have, or might it work to enhance your offering by adding microlearning skills practice?

The answer will change based on your needs, but it’s always worth asking.

4. Ensure your content is mobile-friendly.

We often learn an organization’s push for microlearning is in response to a stated need of their learners. Taking courses on the go is one of the most common. If that’s the case, strongly consider designing your courses to be mobile-friendly.

This doesn’t just mean choosing an authoring tool that can play your course on a phone, it means considering the needs of the mobile learner as you develop. If you’ve ever tried to fill in a cell on a spreadsheet on your phone, you know the pain of a keyboard covering half your screen preventing you from seeing what you need to see.

On-the-go learning is only as good as the experience you build. Test early and test often!

5. Work with a custom e-learning development company.

Business leaders and training managers have so much to think about when it comes to building the best strategies for their teams. As with any discipline, the most successful among them don’t need to know everything there is to know. Instead, they align themselves with experts.

As you embark on a microlearning strategy, consider the benefits of working with a custom e-learning development company like Artisan Learning. Our team of instructional designers, developers, and quality assurance testers are dedicated to e-learning and to developing your perfect solution.

Whether you choose us, another company, or an in-house team, make sure your e-learning team builds microlearning in response to a clear learning need and not because it’s an industry buzzword. All great e-learning requires great instructional design expertise. Microlearning is no exception.

For more information about e-learning strategy and development, check out the following additional resources:

Are you interested in custom microlearning development?

The team at Artisan Learning can help.

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