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Using microlearning to boost outcomes

Most people can probably recall at least a handful of times in high school or university where they stayed up late 'cramming' for an exam, despite having sat through hours of lectures over the course of an entire semester and perhaps even having read a textbook on the subject. It’s not that we have horrible memories. In fact, our brains are hardwired not to remember.

Which begs the question - has our attention span really shortened to that of a goldfish due to the age of the internet? The short answer is, probably not. However, it’s understandable how that perception came to be. While goldfish ironically have a higher capacity for learning than we have been led to believe, we do know that because of the way information is shared, it appears that collectively we humans have an inability to focus for very long.

The idea that we can’t stay focused anymore has largely been an accusation pointed at the millennial generation. As of 2016, this generation now makes up the majority of the workforce, and because of this, employers are looking into what it takes to keep this generation productive. While it’s true that millennials have grown up with Google, their capacity for learning and retention hasn’t worsened; it’s merely changed.

With information being shared and posted and blasted and reminded almost constantly, our brains are used to constant distraction, and therefore have to, as they’ve always done, choose what information is absolutely critical, and forget the rest.

The idea of learning only what’s essential is possibly one of the best ways to learn and retain information, and this concept has moved into corporate learning and development in the form of microlearning.

What is microlearning?

Microlearning is learning in bite-sized 'nuggets' of roughly three to five minutes at a time. This approach is designed to make information stick and is largely used in environments less formal than a traditional classroom setting.

Learning things quickly and on the go, from anywhere, at any time is what the millennial generation is used to. However, its advantages are many and benefit everyone in every generation. Let’s explore how microlearning can boost outcomes.

Maximise time

Taking time out of an already overbooked schedule can be tough. Employees appreciate the opportunity to learn quickly and from any device at a time most optimal for them. They also appreciate being able to grab some bite-sized learning between meetings or phone calls, rather than having to carve out large chunks of time to devote to a class.

Just-in-time training

To grab a phrase from the transportation industry, just-in-time training essentially borrows the same concept; getting training only when you need it, rather than learning things you won’t use immediately, or sometimes ever. For example, if it’s time to conduct an exit interview, you’d go through training just before you do an actual exit interview.

Increasingly, project management systems can be integrated with your LMS and e-learning plans to so that necessary learning can be delivered at precisely the right time during a project’s life cycle.

Essential learning

Speaking of just-in-time training, another great benefit of learning in short doses means that there isn’t time to be wasted. Training needs to be boiled down to what is essential and what will be the most optimal and beneficial for the tasks the learner will be executing.

Learning retention

Microlearning means only consuming material that you need to know, when you need to know it, as quickly as possible. This means that people aren’t trying to learn large amounts of information, only to try (unsuccessfully) to recall it months later perhaps having forgotten most of it. When we learn in short doses and apply that learning immediately, it’s more likely to be retained.

Learner accountability

Most employees say that development opportunities are among their highest priorities. So it stands to reason that offering employees training courses is one of the best ways to keep them around. Microlearning availability is one way that employees themselves can identify skills gaps and take responsibility for learning what they need to know to close those gaps.

Microlearning offers flexible professional development that meets learners where they are as it relates to their busy schedules and the way they prefer to consume information. Because training is intended to increase skill sets and ultimately productivity, consider also how microlearning can reduce the time spent learning while ultimately still delivering the intended results.

This is a guest post from Jessica Barrett Halcom, a writer for


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