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What is microlearning & why should you care?


Dear reader, now that you have stumbled upon this article by RapL Research Labs, we assume you have a semblance of microlearning or that the word caught your eye of interest. We assume you are here for knowledge and to build a case for microlearning at your workplace. 

Before we get into microlearning, let’s see how the world is warming up to the concept.

Here is how interest in the subject has been growing over the last decade. 

Microlearning google trends chart

On a related note, Leong, Sung, Au David and Blanchard mapped the number of publications around microlearning from 2006 – 2019. Here is how it looks 

Microlearning publications

The sentiment around microlearning has turned from ‘warm’ to ‘hot’ in the last few years. Microlearning use cases have grown to include:

  • Efficient knowledge transfer between project managers to control costs in construction projects [1]
  • Orientation to ease students into the ongoing awareness of sex workers’ lifestyles [2]
  • Adaptation by the British Cycling team to win 5 Tour De France titles in 6 years [3]


Microlearning is a catalyst for behavioral changes in business, society and sports. Yet why have more businesses not built a microlearning strategy? One hypothesis is that stakeholder access to high quality case studies is minimal. The other is that microlearning is very recent. Third could be the lack of adequate tools for the creation and use of microlearning. The gains from microlearning are not the only way to build enterprise value.

📣 Message for the reader

People forget nearly 90% of what they have learnt within just 7 days, unless the concepts are reinforced. That’s why employees swamped with documents, presentations, and classroom sessions are not likely to learn much.

However, time constraints make it difficult to reinforce vast concepts.

What can you do instead? Arm your employees with one concept at a time. Studies show the human attention span is only 8.25 seconds, so keep your training concise.

RapL is your software for that.

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What is microlearning?

Julie Clow, Head of People Development at Chanel, has defined microlearning. The below lines summarize her idea in a nutshell.

In a broader spectrum, people need to know certain things to do their job. These could be some big things or various small things to expand their knowledge about a job. Each organization has several content areas that people need to specialize in. But they are relevant only to a few. There are several training programs, but microlearning pieces are valuable to create and distribute. The organization can introduce something helpful to employees when they are idle. The learning strategy becomes complete by using the microlearning format to teach.

Julie’s mental model compares microlearning with traditional learning as below

Parameter Microlearning Traditional Learning
Time to distribute Blazing fast Logistical lags
Duration Atomic, generally under 10 mins Molecular, 30 to 60 minutes
Cognitive Impact Foundational Strength High-Level Synthesis and Analysis
Sample Outcome Spaced out learning, leading to retention. It uses bite-sized segments distributed via micro-courses. Embrace and execute a new business trajectory using a design thinking classroom exercise
Traditional learning vs microlearning

Traditional learning is the center of the molecule. Microlearning atoms build covalent bonds around it.

Traditional learning can be classroom learning or on the job learning. Kapp and Delifice’s book “Microlearning” defines it as, 

“Microlearning is an instructional unit that provides a short engagement in an activity intentionally designed to elicit a specific outcome from the participant.”

Here is a quick overview of the three key components of this definition. They are “instructional unit,” “short engagement” and “specific results”.
  1. Instructional Unit – A learning unit packed with instruction-led content. These instructions are self-sufficient. When you add or subtract an idea from this instruction, its usefulness fades. 
  2. Short Engagement Most microlearning exercises take a few minutes to complete. The average is 2 to 10 minutes.
  3. Specific resultsEach microlearning exercise attempts to build a specific micro-skill or behavior. For example, the following microlearning map helps a Toyota salesperson. They can familiarize themselves with the specifications of different models of cars.
Microlearning Map for Model Specification Course for Toyota
Department Store Sales
Job Position Sales Executive
Task Explain the features of the car model to prospective buyers
Performance Criteria The person must complete the quizzes related to the specification of diffrent models. This must be done in a spaced time frame.
Objective Retention of specific details of different models of Toyota. Face the customer with confidence and comfort.
Intended Use Reinforcement

This microlearning exercise is specific in its approach to training sales executives. 

Let’s now focus on the benefits of microlearning. Isn’t that the actual goal?

Benefits of Microlearning

1.  It caters to short attention spans: The attention time span of a human being is shorter than that of a goldfish. So, a learning model that caters to reality is needed. That is Microlearning. It’s built for shorter consumption spans, thereby retaining attention.

2. Anytime, Anywhere: Microlearning fits into the anytime-anywhere paradigm of learning.  Microlearning is mobile-first. Participants can access the content on the move, during breaks or when they want to.

3. Better Retention: Many studies have proven that microlearning is the best for retention. ‘The Forgetting Curve’ is real. The only practical model that works against it is microlearning.

Curve of Forgetting
The Forgetting Curve. Microlearning helps retain information learned better with each repetition [5]

4. It allows you to tell a story: Many concepts are blended in classroom learning, which makes storytelling abstract. The microlearning units are divided into atomic units. This creates plenty of room for storytelling for each unit. It also has the flexibility to devise a storyboard for each atom. The effect is that participants are aware of the nuance behind each learning unit.

5. Ease of distribution: Microlearning material is small in size, and distributed via the internet. These make it easier to share and distribute content among participants.

6. Very approachable for novice learners: In the classroom model, participants with no idea of business models and procedures will get overwhelmed. Microlearning breaks down the content into bite-sized chunks, which helps them.

7. Correlate business improvements with granular learning initiatives: Microlearning is to atomize business information into actionable chunks. This helps learn in a data centric approach.

Learning Analytics Dashboard

The performance split is based on mastery of the topic. Green indicates the % of mastery among users, red indicates % of misinformed users, and yellow indicates % of users whose answers are either right or wrong, but low on confidence. 

Completion Percentage indicates the percentage of users who have completed mastering the topic.

When can we utilize microlearning?

There are countless applications of microlearning. However, let’s pick some of the most used applications, so that you can get inspired and build your own roadmap.
  1. Reduce ramp time of new hires: Scheduling classroom training sessions for new hires can be counterproductive. They will be prone to ‘the forgetting curve’ as learned above. Micro-courses that orient them to the details of the business would increase productivity.
  2. Improving compliances: Compliances contain many individual points / policies that need to be followed individually and collectively. Posing participants to all points in a classroom training may not lead to execution. But, breaking them into bite-sized content and reviewing improves retention.
  3. Systems Training: Business departments have unique systems for process flows. Softwares make up a large part of these systems. For people to be productive faster, they need a good grasp of working with such products. Microlearning is the best delivery mechanism associated with operating such software. Why? The software also has many atoms of learning. A dedicated micro-course reinforces each atom.

And there are many more use cases.

At RapL, we are committed to helping practitioners like you create and distribute their micro-courses. Hundreds of companies like Toyota, Casio and Microsoft have embraced microlearning to enhance everyday productivity. Get in touch with us, and we will be elated to get you aboard the microlearning bandwagon.

Thanks for being with us all the way here

Dear reader, thanks for being with us all the way till the end. We suggest 2 things from here

1. Speak to us if you want a microlearning strategy deep-dive: Microlearning is extremely effective, if approached sensibly. Microlearning is the answer to today’s shortening attention spans and we know how to make learning successful via microlearning. Drop your context here and we shall partner with you for the rest.

2. Lap up more content: We have written some intense literature on how microlearning is the superglue between people and successful business operations. Access all of it here.

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