Microlearning: beyond a mass of meaningless content

With so many jumping on microlearning’s bandwagon, is it the big L&D heist many experts argue – or is promise lurking? As always, it comes down to execution. We’ve shared 3 tips and microlearning examples to help make yours work.


What is microlearning?

Microlearning – what does it mean? A debated term in the industry, the most we can hold it to is providing small moments of learning content to an audience. This isn’t a new idea, and, as we’ve argued before, it’s not one that necessarily equals good learning or improved performance.

Big fish, little fish…effective fish?

People are checking their smartphones 9 times an hour, and reportedly our attention spans are shrinking – or, at least, competition for attention is now extra fierce. It’s no wonder everyone’s going for shorter digital learning content.

Modern workplace learners want to access content on smaller devices, on the move and in stolen pockets of time: on trains, over breakfast, before meetings. Those who want to gain traction for their content need to target those new, tiny windows of opportunity.

3 hurdles to overcome before embarking on microlearning

Cutting down your content still comes with some obstacles you need to acknowledge and overcome.

  • First, given the amount of digital and workplace tasks and noise thrown at people, microlearning has to be really good to engage an audience at all.
  • Second, you’re being paid to improve performances. Working up “content” does not equate to effective learning experiences, or useful performance improvement resources.
  • Third, one person’s useful resource is another’s white noise. Tweet this!

To get microlearning to work – and indeed, to get any digital learning resources to work – it has to have micro-specific user goals in mind and work at scale, for everyone. That means personalization. Here’s our expert advice…

3 tips and microlearning examples to get your strategy to deliver

1.  Be the answer

If there’s one lesson to take away from why Google is so popular (and obviously there’s a lot more than this!), it’s because it answers your questions. Putting a sad end to dinner party debates and stories from those friends who like to exaggerate, Google serves up the answer to a problem or question in the moment.

We could call this the three S approach:
Situation: Got a flat tire.
Seek: Look up how to fix it.
Solution: Fix it.

In a work context, it can be tempting to take a whole course on, for example on conducting performance reviews, and break it into bite-sized chunks to make it “micro”. But, this can still miss the mark. A manager about to conduct a performance review will have specific needs, such as being unsure when to deliver constructive feedback or how to deal with a certain challenge in the conversation. A performance review is a scenario that will be different for everyone, every time, so the learning needs to reflect that.

Keeping the example of a performance review, if you’re really interested in improving how your management team handle these, they’ll each need a medley of different skills and support that together help them grow and develop.


Run a survey to ask your audience what they need help with, and see the results in your Analytics dashboard. Then, design for those needs.

analytics dashboard

Nick Shackleton-Jones, who rails against the microlearning hype, explains how taking a Q and A approach helps shape resources that are useful and short.

2.  Be useful

Armed with evidence of what your audience actually needs – as well as some evidence of specific performance gaps that need to be closed – you are now in a good position to create short resources that are genuinely useful.

Ignore the plethora of content you might have up your sleeve, and instead focus on designing resources that provide the answers to those questions you’ve uncovered. Work in specific solutions to the problems your audience are likely to come up against.

Microlearning Examples

Concentrate on the media that can best deliver the help that’s needed. Use videos of experts answering specific questions, PDF downloads, infographics, digital guides, interactive diagnostics and more. Here’s some inspiration from Elucidat:

Elucidat Masterclasses

elucidat masterclass

Our Masterclasses are 2-3 minutes long, and focus on achieving a specific design outcome for authors using our tool. Each one houses 20 seconds of theory, 3-4 in-depth demos, a ‘how to’ and some expert tips. Sign up for free.

Diagnostics and personalized guides

Help individuals find their strengths and flaws, then serve up a shortlist of focused tips and tricks to help them improve their daily performance.

diagnostics personalized guide

Our time-management profile demo showcases microlearning providing useful digital content, tailored to an individual’s needs.

Digital one-pagers

pre-boarding resource

Our pre-boarding digital resource showcases how to get to the point quickly, and use resources to highlight the essentials in an engaging way.

Don’t be scared to go deeper

Don’t be afraid to also go for deeper, emotional learning experiences in short-form, like these great examples:

3. Be holistic

We don’t tend to practice skills or behaviors in a siloed way, but instead deal with what’s in front of us. Why learn them that way?

A huge benefit of going micro with your learning is that you can enable individual learners to build up competency and skills in incremental steps, and keep them coming back to your product for more. This is something we talk about in this related microlearning article.

If you’re brave, you’ll not only go micro, but do it holistically. Consider being topic agnostic and designing a microlearning strategy that focuses on enabling individuals to work toward personal improvement goals. For example, goals to perform as better team members, self-leaders, collaborators, motivators, creatives, leaders of others and more can each share the same resources – as well as some that are particular to that area.


Check out the way curious.com approaches its microlearning topics.

microlearning topics

While not all learning is workplace related, chances are you’ll inspire more people to use your content if there’s an obvious personal development goal (i.e., Do I put a hazard sign up over the spill in the kitchen because of my health and safety training, or because I care about others?).

Re-think your categories and tag multiple resources so they can sit under multiple “holistic” umbrellas. The added benefit to designing holistically? Your microlearning strategy can help you identify and build business leaders for the future.

Final thoughts

Congratulations for making it to the end of the article. Your attention span made it! (Plus, the whole attention span spin isn’t necessarily true – and neither is the myth about goldfish memory!)

For more on microlearning and taking a resource-based approach, check out our two related articles:

If you want to read up on some of the industry leaders’ views on microlearning (for and against the hype), check out:

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