What is micro learning?: A beginner’s guide

Rachael Nemeth
Co-founder, CEO
September 11, 2022

Micro-learning is a method of delivering digital training that is brief, frequent, and just-in-time. It’s an alternative to traditional learning methods such as e-learning (also known as structured learning or computer-based training), virtual classrooms, online courses, and classroom instruction. In this article you will learn what research-backed micro-learning is, why it’s important for businesses with deskless employees, and, how to develop a micro-learning strategy with actionable tactics from start to finish.

What is micro learning?

Micro-learning is any type of learning that takes less than 10 minutes. The key word here is brief. The idea behind micro-learning is that it’s impossible for humans to fully retain information delivered in a single sitting—this is the idea behind “spacing effect,” which states that the best way to learn something is to break it up over time. 

 

Micro-learning takes advantage of the spacing effect by delivering bits of information in short bursts. This creates a “long tail” of information that constantly refreshes, helping to retain key concepts even when deskless workers aren’t actively thinking about the learning. Micro-learning is also one of the more inclusive training approaches today. This is because it can reach multiple generations and ethnicities with little in-person effort.

What research backs up micro learning?

Lots! Beyond the concept of the spacing effect, many studies have found that micro-learning is an effective way to train workers. 

 

  • Microlearning makes businesss more agile - A study by Stanford University found that microlearning enables organizations to be more agile since they can response quickly to employees' immediate needs.
  • Deskless workers are more engaged with micro-learning - A study by the University of Wisconsin found that deskless workers who received micro-learning training were more engaged with their jobs, felt more empowered, and had higher job satisfaction than desk employees who received e-learning training.
  • Workers who receive micro-learning report higher retention - A study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that workers who received micro-learning reported higher retention of key concepts.
  • Micro-learning improves problem-solving skills - A study from the University of Hawaii found that participants who received just-in-time training in engineering and design problem-solving skills retained those skills for up to a year—and those who received micro-learning learned even more. 
  • Micro-learning increases overall performance - A study from the University of Central Florida found that workers who received just-in-time training in programming, software engineering, and business analytics saw a 33% increase in overall performance.

Is micro-learning expensive? 

No. In fact, it will save your business money. All learning methods are not created equal, but micro-learning has some notable benefits. 

 

  • Deskless workers learn faster with micro-learning: Micro-learning is designed to take advantage of the spacing effect, so it’s better at helping workers retain information delivered over time. That means deskless workers learn the information faster. 
  • Micro-learning can be customized more easily than traditional methods: One of the strengths of micro-learning is that it can be customized to fit different learners. Different types of content can be created and segmented into bite-sized pieces so that workers can learn at their own pace. 
  • Micro-learning requires less hourly labor: Micro-learning is cost-effective for training managers and workers because it reduces the number of hours needed for training. It has also been shown to lower turnover.
  • Micro-learning requires less admin labor: It also reduces the number of people needed for team training sessions, which can be expensive if you’re meeting in person. 
  • Micro-learning is flexible for working adults: Workers can learn on their own time - One of the advantages of micro-learning is that it can be delivered to workers on their own time. Short lessons that each have their own information can be watched in brief bursts that fit into a deskless worker’s schedule whether on the job or between jobs. 

Examples of Micro-Learning Programs

There are countless examples of companies that have implemented micro-learning programs.  Here are a few: (link to 5 different case studies from Opus)

 

  • Amazon has a micro-learning program that covers topics like how to improve productivity and how to use Amazon’s tools. - Salesforce’s micro-learning program covers topics like its marketing cloud and core CRM product.
  • SPiN Global uses microlearning to support their new hire training and Human Resources compliance requirements such as state-mandated sexual harassment prevention.
  • David Chang's Fuku uses microlearning to help their expansion efforts. Says they're people operations director, "I love bringing lightless when it comes to training" 
  • Airbnb hosts can complete a micro-learning course about how to communicate effectively with guests. Hosts who complete the course are less likely to get negative reviews from guests.

Best practices for micro learning for deskless workers

There are a few best practices to keep in mind when creating a micro-learning program. 

 

  1. Keep it visual - Images are a great way to convey information, and they’re especially helpful in micro-learning because they simplify the information. 
  2. Use language that resonates - Language is important because it conveys meaning. Words like “choose,” “decide,” and “select” are all words that convey decision-making. 
  3. Get translation technology - Microlearning is most effective when training a diverse workforce if the technology you choose automatically translates your lessons and videos for you. And yes, the tech is getting better.
  4. Be personable - People relate to people, so having micro-learning show a human side can help workers relate to it and retain information better.
  5. Make it interactive - Micro-learning can be interactive in a few ways, such as including quizzes that help workers test their knowledge. You can also institute research-backed gamification principles.

Develop a microlearning strategy for your business

When creating a microlearning strategy for your business, first choose your goals. What are you hoping to achieve with micro-learning? After you’ve decided what you want to achieve, you can start thinking about the specifics of your strategy. Here are a few things to keep in mind: 

 

  • Choose a communication channel - Where do you want to deliver your micro-learning? You have a few options: A corporate intranet, an extranet, or even an app or other online learning platform.
  • Create a content calendar - Even with micro-learning, you don’t want to overwhelm your employees with too much information all at once. Create a content calendar that outlines when you’ll be releasing new content. 
  • Consider who your audience is - Just because you’re creating micro-learning doesn’t mean all of your employees are the intended users. Create different micro-learning programs for managers and other different audiences. 
  • Create micro-learning for your top-performing employees - If you have a group of top-performing employees, consider creating a special micro-learning program just for them. Spot leaders early and before they churn.

Is micro learning worth it?

The benefits micro learning can bring to organizations are significant, and the ROI is high. But how do you know if micro-learning is something your company should invest in?  Here are a few questions you can ask yourself: Take the quiz

Learning via mobile phone is a modern, accessible way to approach micro-learning, versus desktop-based on classroom learning

Conclusion

Micro-learning is a method of delivering digital training that is brief, frequent, and just-in-time. It’s an alternative to traditional learning methods such as e-learning, virtual classrooms, online courses, and classroom instruction. Micro-learning takes advantage of the spacing effect by delivering bits of information in short bursts. This creates a “long tail” of information that constantly refreshes, helping to retain key concepts even when deskless workers aren’t actively thinking about the learning. There are countless examples of companies that have implemented micro-learning programs. When creating a microlearning strategy for your business, first choose your goals. Is micro-learning worth it for your company? If you have a large number of deskless workers, if your deskless workers have access to learning resources, and if your company has clear goals for its micro-learning program, then it’s definitely worth the investment.