March 27, 2023
5 min read
Brains are always learning.
Survival adaptation, living efficiency, and time to value, are all considerations when a person is naturally in their environment.
When adults are asked to learn intentionally as a requirement of their job, they go through a series of calculations to determine if the learning will help them be better at their job, be more efficient, or help them make more money.
They also can tell pretty quickly if the learning is useless, or important only to the entity requiring it of them. And then they learn to move as quickly through the task as possible, to fulfill the requirement, without retaining or applying any information at all.
Even if they've done the calculation and the learning seems relevant, their attention is usually short-lived. Particularly for quota-carrying individuals. And even more so for organizations that have a culture of "this is how it's always been done". For this reason, many organizations have adopted micro-learning as a solution to short attention spans.
Organizations are doubling down on micro-learning as the answer to learning engagement in a climate where learner attention, and information retention, are at a premium. There are a lot of advantages to micro-learning, and it has become so popular that there are entire platforms geared towards the smaller, more bite-sized approach to learning. Learning professionals are also starting to specialize in micro-learning content creation and strategy.
There are certainly a lot of distinct advantages to micro-learning, but like anything, shorter bursts of learning are not a one-size-fits-all approach to content delivery. Micro-learning can complement a larger TL&D strategy and can be a powerful tool for an organization when used appropriately.
Much of the praise for micro-learning's effectiveness centers around the dynamics of today’s modern workforce:
Workers are under a constant bombardment of interruptions from systems, app notifications, email, text messages etc... so it’s harder for them to focus when it comes time to learn.
According to several studies, including Gloria Mark’s work out of UC Irvine, the average knowledge worker is interrupted every 11 minutes. So if employees are asked to focus on a long-format video, or attend a one-hour webinar, they will be interrupted several times which will take their attention away from the learning. In fact, getting through a one-hour video can take up to three hours with all of the interruptions that learners face.
What many employees do with long-format training is they try and get through it as quickly as they can, to get it off of their plate and move on to other more pressing work. This includes fast-forwarding a video to the end and checking “complete” to show that they watch the content to get credit for the session.
Since micro-learning is delivered in much shorter bursts, about 7 minutes or so, the likelihood of being interrupted within a micro-learning is small which gives the learner the chance to complete their learning session.
There are several studies that show this, and logic would also dictate that, if there is less information presented, then it would be easier to retain. There is a 2016 German study in particular that showed micro-learning when compared with longer format learning, is more effective from a learner retention aspect.
Micro-learning is less expensive to produce and deliver than other training modalities. It’s highly scalable, and there are several micro-learning platforms with simple authoring tools that anyone can use. Some numbers estimate 300% less time and 50% less cost.
Learners also report that micro-learning is more engaging. Most micro-learning platforms are designed as a mobile-first experience, and they typically have a familiar social-app feel that employees enjoy.
Engagement is one of many factors used by TL&D organizations to help describe the quality of learning content delivery. If learners are engaging with the content, i.e. if they are tapping, clicking, uploading, responding, etc. to the learning they are consuming then the content has a higher likelihood of being remembered and applied. It’s easy to build in points of engagement in micro-learning sessions as most platforms support functions like quizzes, games, and other tappable moments.
Some platforms even provide reporting on learner engagement. They can show how long learners spent completing the content, how many times they clicked or tapped on a page, how many times they took a quiz, etc. Reports can then show that employees are “engaging” with the content.
Engagement reporting doesn’t have much value outside of instruction design, but the reporting is sometimes used to indicate that there is a sign of employee engagement at a higher level.
Micro-learning is only one potential solution to employee learning engagement or behavior change. It is respectful of learner time while delivering the most impact. But if it isn't delivered to the learner at the point of motivation, it's still just noise.
When we're talking about partner enablement, it's even noisier, because ecosystems are vast and nuanced. Micro-Learning is most effective when delivered just in time to the learner that needs it at the moment.