Why Microlearning is Important (And How to Design It)

Microlearning is one of the elearning industry’s hot topics at the moment, and rightly so because it is very effective. And the good news for learning professionals? You don’t need a different set of skills or to invest in new technologies to start designing microlearning.


Why should we design microlearning?

Have you ever watched a video on YouTube? Of course you have. Silly question. So, let me ask you instead: when you arrive on the YouTube homepage, type in a keyword and hit “Search”, what factors determine which video you watch first? Maybe your choice is based on the order of search results? A quirky title? Or maybe the number of views?

Your video choice may even be a combination of these. That said, once you’ve made your choice, one factor that usually determines whether you proceed with it is the video length. I often select a video only to discover that it is 45 minutes long!

What happens next? Well, I usually hit the “back” button, safe in the knowledge that I’ll find something shorter in the list of search results.

In fact, in 2014 Comscore reported that the duration of the average online video was 4.4 minutes. Since we all know that the market usually supplies what demand dictates, that turns out to be a pretty meaningful statistic.

How does this impact your learning content?

Whilst YouTube may not be classed as “formal learning”, the experience our learners have when beginning a topic is the same.

We suffer from a chronic lack of time. We are a distracted species. With phone calls, emails, instant messages, meetings, conference calls, WhatsApp notifications, friend requests, Twitter mentions, etc., we don’t often have time left to sit through 45 minutes of training. We usually do need the answer to our question or need to learn a new technique…

But we need it now.

But please humor me for a moment. Think about how your learners interact with your online training. They log into your learning portal/LMS in the hope of learning something about your business, product, or technology. They are ready to be engaged. They browse for the topic they’re looking for or see some suggestions on their dashboard.

But what do they find? A 45-minute-long SCORM course?

What are the chances that they will have 45 minutes to spare, and are therefore going to start that course? A lot less than the chance of them choosing a 5-minute lesson on the specific subject they are looking for.

Don’t believe me? Well, which of the following looks more engaging to you if you’re looking to do some quick learning?


Or this:


The difference in development time is negligible. The difference in user experience is huge.

How to design microlearning

Microlearning isn’t a difficult concept to grasp. If you’re responsible for creating or delivering online training and are curious as to how to switch to microlearning, the good news is that there isn’t much to learn. Get 3 tips and check out our favorite microlearning examples.

The change has more to do with a mental shift rather than a whole new way of designing. Rather than delivering an hour-long course, you need to deliver the same content in bite-sized nuggets. Easy, right?

There’s no official right or wrong length for microlearning. Most experts suggest two to five minutes as being optimal. However, the amount of time per lesson is largely irrelevant – it’s the content that is important. If each lesson is under 15 minutes, it can be classed as microlearning.

The key concept to remember is that you’re taking one learning objective and allocating that to a single item of content (I’m calling these “lessons”). If you stick to one learning outcome per microlearning lesson, you’re good to go.

How many lessons per course? Well that’s up to you, but a good rule of thumb would be a maximum of ten; any more than that and you may want to consider breaking your course into more modules.

Potential problems to be aware of when designing microlearning

Often the tools that we use to create content work against the principle of microlearning. If you think about some of the more traditional rapid authoring tools out there, they often guide us into using their features to build complex menu structures, adding navigation within the player or browser.

Whilst the software developers are trying to make our lives easier, what happens is that we build huge courses with complex menus, hit publish, and export a single course. Our LMS ends up looking like this:


How should we use the tools?

We should be using the tools to create bite-sized lessons. I would go as far as recommending that you stop using built-in menus from rapid-authoring software altogether.

Take a look at the following elearning course as an example. Whilst it may seem like a small detail, the fact that the menu itself is contained within the elearning course means that the learner is going to have to hunt through the built-in menu to find what he or is looking for.


Now, if this course were broken up into the same components as displayed within the menu, and then individually loaded into the LMS as microlearning, we are immediately giving the learners the choice of accessing the exact content they are looking for.

Authoring tools like Elucidat are so effective because you can quickly create microlearning without thinking about menus – simply login, create your lesson, and publish.

The following is an excellent example of a bite-sized learning intervention – the content is engaging and it takes a learner less than three minutes to pick up some key facts about making a cup of tea!

How to Make a Cup of Tea really embraces the true nature of microlearning; it uses only one page with multiple interactions.

You can click on the image to see the full version:


How to use Elucidat to design microlearning

If you’re working as a learning designer, you’ve probably been creating microlearning your entire career.

What do I mean by that? Well, you design each learning intervention one at a time, right? So, rather than bundling them all into the same course, why not just break them down into individual modules?

We’re simply taking a longer course and breaking it down into more impactful, stand-alone lessons that can be delivered individually.

It really doesn’t have to be any more complicated than this, so don’t let this scare you!

The other beautiful consequence of microlearning is that the lessons can still sit together as a longer course, so you’re not going to lose the opportunity to deliver a full “course”, if that is what your establishment demands.

A simple, three-step process

Microlearning content can be created quickly using tools like Elucidat.

1. Select the type of interaction you’re looking to create:


2. Add your content:


3. Release the microlearning lesson:


Final thoughts

Often, when we hear buzzwords within the industry, it can feel like we’re missing out. Microlearning may be something you’ve heard a lot about but have yet to attempt. As you can see, a few simple tweaks to the way that you design your courses can be enough to move from monster courses to micro courses.

Have you built a microcourse yet? Did you notice any other differences within the design process that we haven’t mention here? Tweet us your thoughts @Elucidat.

Next steps: