Learning is a continuous process that occurs at every age and stage of life. At the same time, it has become increasingly difficult for many to find time for extensive learning programs or courses. This is where microlearning comes in—an innovative learning method based on short, targeted units. In this article you will learn what micro learning is, how it works and for whom it is suitable. We'll also give examples of micro learning and discuss current trends.
Microlearning is a learning method in which concrete learning content is taught in short units. Each unit deals with a clearly outlined topic. The goal of micro learning is to quickly and effectively convey the appropriate answer to a particular question or problem. Different formats such as videos, quizzes or infographics are used for this purpose.
Microlearning is therefore not limited to a specific format, and can theoretically also take place in person, for example when a trainer briefly explains a specific method. Mostly, however, the term is used for online offers or options. It is only with the constant availability of the Internet and the popularity of smart phones that this type of learning has become possible. This means that people can search for suitable information precisely when they are faced with a problem, and it can help them in just a few minutes.
When asked how long a microlearning unit takes, there is no standard answer. As a rule, the duration is between two and fifteen minutes.
Microlearning is an effective way to meet a clearly defined learning need. The unit focuses precisely on the topic that is relevant to the learner at that moment. It can be easily integrated into everyday life and can be completed in a short time. This allows learners to quickly build and apply their knowledge. The dreaded transfer learning gap, the fact that much of what is learned in traditional training leads to a lack of everyday application, is much smaller in micro-learning. Because often the unit is completed exactly when it is needed in order to apply the content directly afterward.
If several units are completed on a particular topic, the learning transfer improves further. Microlearning then leads to higher knowledge retention because what is learned is better anchored in long-term memory.
In addition, the short inputs reduce the so-called cognitive load on the working memory (Sweller, 1988), which facilitates learning.
Last but not least, microlearning promotes self-directed learning, as learners can decide for themselves when and where they want to learn. This increases motivation and commitment.
Microlearning is suitable for all people who want to learn quickly and effectively, regardless of age, level of education or field of expertise. It is particularly suitable for people with little time, as microlearning can be easily integrated into everyday life.
Studies show that younger people in particular are very open to microlearning. For example, many Millennials prefer to learn from YouTube videos rather than traditional books (Hassinger-Das et al., 2020).
It is important to note that these focused units usually lack context. This means that learners must already approach the training with a specific question in mind. You must also have sufficient prior knowledge to be able to independently contextualize the microlearning content. Only then can microlearning be fully effective and learners can directly apply what they have learned.
Microlearning is also a good addition to companies' further development programs, enabling them to train their employees in a short time or keep them up to date. Microlearning units are short and concise, and can therefore be used particularly well "on the job". Employees can apply what they have learned directly in their day-to-day work. This direct support at the moment of need provides the employee with a motivating learning experience. They are supported in maintaining their own high level performance continuously.
In general, there is a high level of acceptance of microlearning in companies. Study participants rated microlearning not only as easy to use, but also as realistic and relevant to their professional practice (Taylor et al., 2022). The ratings and usage rates were correspondingly high (ibid.).
Micro-learning works by delivering short, focused sessions of learning. These can be delivered through a variety of channels, such as an e-learning platform or an app.
There are basically two approaches to this. In the first approach, learners decide independently which units they want to complete and when. This allows them to best meet their individual and situational learning needs. This approach works best with experienced learners who have a baseline of knowledge, can accurately identify their knowledge gaps, and are able to find the appropriate microlearning units on their own.
In the second approach, the company (or other institution) provides a framework. The microlearning is then integrated into a defined learning path—for example, for the next generation of managers. The short units are combined with classroom training, learning groups and other formats. By absorbing and repeating the learning content in different formats, the knowledge is consolidated and internalized in the long term.
Soft skills are abilities that cannot be measured directly, such as communication skills or teamwork. So yes, microlearning is also suitable for soft skills training. In videos, for example, short excerpts of conversations can be shown in which a particular communication method can be made tangible.
And soft skills need to be practiced again and again. Microlearning can also help here by providing repeated learning impulses on a specific topic in several short units. Until the new behavior becomes routine.
Several scientific studies have already been conducted to prove the effectiveness of microlearning.
In a meta-study, all five studies came to the conclusion that microlearning is suitable for acquiring new knowledge (Taylor et al. 2022). However, the authors of the study point out that microlearning is most effective when it is used as a supplement to other learning formats (ibid.)
For example, in one of the studies, medical students learned how to use a CRM tool through video-based microlearning. They were better able to remember what they had learned after a few weeks than participants in a control group (Gross et al. 2019).
Usage rates in this study were higher than for "traditional" e-learning formats, and were above the level required by higher education institutions. It was noticeable that students often used the short units more than once (ibid.).
Firstly, creating good microlearning units is not trivial. The topic needs to be communicated in a very short time in a rounded yet concise way. The language should be clear and understandable. Ideally, it should not only inform but also motivate the learner.
Microlearning is also not suitable for all topics. Complex topics or courses in which a lot of information is conveyed that builds on one another (e.g., certification courses) are difficult to present in 3-minute videos.
Another challenge is the large number of learning modules required. To exploit the full potential of microlearning in a company, for example, many different, high-quality learning units need to be made available. This can quickly become confusing and overwhelm learners.
Ideally, each employee can access the content relevant to them at any time. On the one hand, this means that the technical requirements and equipment must be available. On the other hand, the content must be easy and quick to find.
In addition, it must be designed to be accessible so that all users can benefit from it, including people with impairments.
Micro-learning comes in a variety of formats. These can be, for example, short videos, quizzes, infographics or short texts. Interactive exercises such as games or simulations can also be part of microlearning.
Since microlearning can be used for many different topics, it is basically suitable for all subject areas. One example are short learning tutorials for school children, which are compiled into learning paths. In such a microlearning path, first-graders, for example, learn everything about addition and subtraction.
Even on TikTok, there are more and more short learning videos where users share their knowledge on topics such as tax returns, body language or how to give a successful presentation with PowerPoint.
Microlearning can be used for various purposes in companies. Short product training sessions, for example, can be used to demonstrate the key features of various products. Or it can be used to provide new employees with initial information about their new employer. And, of course, important professional and interdisciplinary skills can also be taught.
Current trends in microlearning include personalized learning, gamification and user-generated content. Personalized learning means that the learning content is tailored to the individual needs of the learner. Depending on the activity, previous experience and interests, the respective level of competence and the units the learner has already completed, further content will be suggested.
Gamification is often used in the context of micro-learning, but also throughout the e-learning sector. Here, playful elements are integrated into learning to increase the motivation and engagement of learners. For example, badges are used, virtual awards for special achievements, or competitions are held between teams. The winner is then who has completed the most learning units, and ideally also in whose team the most learning successes are visible (e.g., when the error rate drops or a new process is successfully implemented).
User-generated content is when the microlearning units are not designed by learning experts, but by the users themselves. For example, team members can share best practices in short learning videos to learn from each other. The didactic quality of the content created in this way may not always be guaranteed. On the other hand, user-generated content performs particularly well in terms of the commitment of all participants and also the practical relevance.
Closing statement: Microlearning is on the rise. It is playing an increasingly important role in private, school and company training. Acceptance is generally high, especially among younger generations. When introducing microlearning in a company, care should be taken to ensure that the units meet the required quality characteristics such as clear focus, comprehensibility and relevance. Microlearning can then be a very good supplement to existing further development options.
Gross, B., Rusin, L., Kiesewetter, J., Zottmann, J. M., Fischer, M. R., Prückner, S., & Zech, A. (2019): Microlearning for patient safety: Crew resource management training in 15-minutes. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0213178
Hassinger-Das, B., Dore, R. A., Aloisi, K., Hossain, M., Pearce, M., & Paterra, M. (2020): Children's reality status judgments of digital media: implications for a COVID-19 world and beyond. Frontiers in Psychology, 11. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.570068/full
Sweller, J. (1988). Cognitive load during problem solving: Effects on learning. Cognitive Science, 12, 257-285
Taylor, A., Hung, W. (2022): The Effects of Microlearning: A Scoping Review. Education Tech Research Dev 70, 363-395. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11423-022-10084-1