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Tim Buff


Chief Learning Strategist

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10 Lessons for Creating Effective Microlearning


The recent Learning Technology Research (LTR) Project focused on how we can best harness mobile technology to improve the training and support we give our people. Advances in the capabilities of the delivery and tracking platforms, added to the availability of mobile devices, mean that we need new ways to think about training. Microlearning, using small bite-sized chunks of learning that are easy to access and quick to digest, is one important way of harnessing the power of these new technologies.

The research was interesting because it examined learners’ behaviours, experiences and preferences throughout a real learning programme with real learners – all delivered using Apps on their phones and tablets.

Whether you’re an L&D manager or instructional designer, the LTR Project Report makes instructive reading. I’ve been reviewing the way the LTR Project was put together, some of the source data and a number of aspects of the final report. Microlearning can be delivered equally well to desktops or to tablets and smartphones - but I suspect that, for most people, it is particularly well suited for mobile access.

In this post, I’ll briefly summarise the top 10 lessons learned for creating good microlearning programmes. 

1. Know what you want to achieve

This is basic and applies to any learning programme in any format. Start by understanding the necessary knowledge area, your audience and your learning objectives.

2. Use bites

With microlearning, the whole point is to break the content down into multiple small digestible bites that are quick and easy to access. Define a single learning objective for each learning bite. This might be a piece of supporting information you want to communicate, a behaviour you want to affect or change, or an action you wish to prompt.

Remember: one microlearning module = one learning objective.

3. Link your bites

Treat your microlearning modules as part of an integrated curriculum or programme. If you have broken down your overall topic area into a collection of small microlearning modules, make sure they are presented in a sensible sequence and, when combined, do still cover the whole topic with no inadvertent gaps. If your learning platform can manage and present the collection as a sequenced programme or curriculum, then so much the better.

4. Allow rapid individual access

One of the key benefits of microlearning is the ability to provide immediate, just-in-time training and support to people at the point of need. Make sure your learners can easily find and refer to microlearning modules when they want to. Tagging and searching are key.

5.Use multimedia and various content types

The combination of text and a picture can work well on microlearning, but make sure you get the typography and design right. For variety, use a mix of text, images, and videos and, if budget and time allows, include some simple interactions and animations – variety helps.

Remember: you are targeting people in different environments, so always provide a transcript or subtitles as an option to an audio narration.

6. Keep it short

If you have successfully narrowed the learning bite to one learning objective, then keeping it short shouldn’t be too hard. Focus is crucial. Try to keep the learning down to around two or three minutes – or your audience will lose interest.

7. Use quizzes and assessments

Quizzes and assessments are a good way to assess learner understanding, but they are also useful for prompting repetition and driving home learning points. If quizzes and assessments are done well, then learners will usually find them fun. Micro-assessments are useful to quickly evaluate learners’ knowledge and can be harnessed to survey worries, attitudes, confidence, and so on.

8. Responsive HTML5

This is a basic, but very important technical point. Make sure your content is created to automatically support various screen sizes (desktop, tablet and smartphone) and orientation (landscape versus portrait).

9.Use spaced learning 

Educators have long appreciated the value of spaced learning – the elongation of knowledge retention through the delivery of learning interventions over a period of time, rather than all in one session. If your learning platform is able, then space out the delivery of content, rather than dump it on the learner in one hit.

10. Don’t be afraid to use repetition

If a learning objective is particularly important, or you are not confident your audience has grasped it, repetition is a powerful way to increase knowledge retention around a specific item. You simply repeat the item, or better still, vary the form of delivery with a different piece of training.

Remember: microlearning is a lot easier to change, add to and update than a traditional 45-minute eLearning course.

Final thoughts

People have been learning through what we now call ‘microlearning’ for all of human history – the point is to be able to translate this effectively into the digital equivalent, making sure that knowledge and understanding are communicated, received and retained. The technology makes this possible, but it still needs humans to make it work.

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Tim Buff

Chief Learning Strategist

Read more from Tim Buff

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