Microlearning—just a fad or a way to supercharge learning?

November, 08 2022

94% of e-learning trainers say that they prefer this over more traditional training seminars. Microlearning has been popular in the eLearning space for awhile, but does it deserve it?

The internet has changed our expectations. The ease and speed at which information can be delivered has led to what feels like a shortening of attention spans. While it sounds negative, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing—technology has always reshaped how we interact with the world—but it does mean that we need to change with it.


Learners, especially now, have ample opportunities to distract themselves within an instant, making long-form learning a tug-of-war of attention.


Tuning in and out of a lecture is nothing new, but with apps like TikTok or YouTube, people have more control than ever to engage with what interest them, immediately. This, naturally, manifested with students selectively choosing when to pop-in or out (there’s some science behind this too).


The (possible) solution? Microlearning.


What is Microlearning

Microlearning is a method of delivering learning content in its most compact form while still having the necessary points. Uniquely compatible with eLearning, as microlearning can be done anywhere, at any time, and without a rigid schedule unlike traditional schooling.


Microlearning, given its online nature, is more than just a small course. For example, a microlearning course should include a daily assessment that’ll help cement the content better than a traditional course.


Because microlearning is in smaller intervals and regardless of location, it disincentivizes learners from cramming. Which works better with how people learn.


The Science of Microlearning

There’s a reason why cramming—or trying to remember everything about a course before for a test—is a last-ditch effort. Learning is a process that takes place overtime and rarely can someone maintain all of information all at once.


People have sequential stages of memory which were labelled in the 1960’s by Richard Atkinson and Richard Shiffrin, who created a linear model of human memory.

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The Atkinson-Shiffrin model or Multi-Store model of memory


Learning, or at least as we often refer to it, takes place primarily with short-term and long-term memory. Each stage has their own caveats, making roles and techniques to efficient learning. One of these caveats has been the downfall of many a college student, chunking.


Chunking, or a way of describing the limits of short-term memory, is the idea that humans can hold roughly 7 plus or minus 2 “chunks” of information in short-term memory. Whenever there are more chunks than the brain can hold, other chunks are pushed out. Which is why an hour-long lecture often feels like it was too much information—it usually is.


Many learners tune-in and out because of the mental fatigue caused by attempting to engage with the information leading to them overloading their short-term memory.


What Microlearning Does Right

We’ve looked at the rationale behind microlearning, but here’s what happens whenever it’s put into practice.


Cements The Information

Microlearning with repetition increases the rate of retention for newly acquired information. After an hour of learning, we forget nearly half of what we learnt, but with spaced-out repetitions we forget progressively less and less every time.


Lessens Mental Fatigue

By not having incredibly long courses, microlearning cuts down on the fatigue caused by longer lessons. According to HubSpot, the result is four times higher engagement and knowledge retention.


Microlearning Isn’t Dependent on The Topic

From banking to healthcare, microlearning in both cases has shown to be more effective (and preferable) than traditional education. This means that seemingly any topic can be broken down into a microlearning format.


Learners Prefer Microlearning

survey found that 94% of e-learning trainers prefer microlearning on the job, especially whenever compared to seminars because their learners prefer it. The proof is in the engagement rates too—engagement rate goes from around 15% to 90%.


Microlearning Can Be Done Anywhere, Anytime

Microlearning, because it relays on repetition, must be available regardless of where the learner is or when they decide to learn. Whereas traditional learning relays rigid time, location, and material. This makes traditional learning much less accessible for those that work, don’t have transportation, or don’t have time.


The Downsides of Microlearning

While microlearning has many positives, it is weaker in certain areas.


Can Miss Some Major Points

Because microlearning attempts to reduce the cognitive load by reducing the content, sometimes major points need to be cut or delayed to a future time.


Lessons Take Longer to Deliver

That heading probably made you do a double take. After all, isn’t the whole point that microlearning is faster?


Well, yes. But, as lessons are split into smaller chunks, the amount of content in an hour-long lecture will need to be broken down into multiple lessons with each one needing a couple days to sink in. While this does mean that the information will be remembered easier, the time cost is spread broader.


Microlearning Isn’t Always Necessary

Sometimes the two-hour cram session is all that’s needed to pass. If the learning content is only useful for a very limited amount of time, then it could be more efficient to just use short-term memory.


Microlearning and the Bigger Picture

It may have been tempting to think of microlearning as a fad or some new over-inflated marketing trick, that’ll really help you lose weight this time.


However, many studies and real-life testing of microlearning cements itself as a viable alternative to more traditional education practices. Just consider that the university model of education hasn’t changed much structurally from the 17th century (whenever people were just starting to develop a more advanced understanding of science). Much like those early scientists, our understanding of learning isn’t complete, but microlearning is a step forward.


Key Points of Microlearning

Before implementing microlearning, keep the following points in mind:



  • Chunks of 7 plus or minus 2
  • Space out course and assessments
  • Make both the course and assessments able to fit in a busy day
  • Require the following assessments
  • Make course and assessments accessible whenever the learner is


Fitting with the modern world, microlearning is perhaps the best way to not only get learning into busy daily lives, but also to make sure that information is cemented in memory. By utilizing microlearning, an organization can still effectively train their people without needlessly taking up time.


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