The purpose of this article is to help the Training and Development professional understand if their organization is prepared to adopt MicroLearning as a part of their learning and development initiatives. We will explore that question by offering some insight into what MicroLearning is and is not, look at some examples of how it is being adopted, and then identify some best practices for how to make MicroLearning a successful component of a training and organizational development program.

What is MicroLearning?

A concise definition of MicroLearning is that it is small pieces of focused, “right-sized” content to help learners accomplish a specific learning outcome. Conceptually, it sounds simple and almost everyone in the corporate training world seems to be buzzing, “Its faster and cheaper to build…”, “It can be accessed from nearly anywhere…” It’s narrowly focused and can be taken at the point of need…”, It’s portable and available on multiple devices including smartphones, tablets, and laptops…”, “It takes less time to complete and fits the attention span of a millennial workforce…”

All of these things are true to some extent, and an Association for Talent Development survey conducted in 2017 found that 38% of Talent Development professionals surveyed already used at least some MicroLearning in their talent development programs, with 41% of them planning to implement it by 2019. However, to understand more about what MicroLearning is, it is also helpful to know more about what it is not. Here are some common misperceptions and how they stack up to reality:

MicroLearning Is just chunking large pieces of content into smaller ones While it is true that MicroLearning is shorter in length, it is important to ensure each MicroLearning module is a “standalone” learning activity that is self-contained and understandable without reference to other material.
If it is short, it’s MicroLearning It is also true that MicroLearning is short, but that is not its main distinguishing feature. It is only as long as necessary to achieve a narrowly focused learning objective. Within that context it is a short as possible.
MicroLearning requires videos or gamificationGamification is an effective way to capture and hold a learner’s attention for a short period of time, and videos are an effective means of demonstrating an activity or concept in an attractive and attention-grabbing way. However, MicroLearning can also include text, checklists, quizzes, and infographics. Relevance and quality are more important than flashiness when it comes to selecting a learning modality.
Any topic can be delivered as MicroLearningMicroLearning is not appropriate for presenting complex concepts, teambuilding, or procedures containing subtasks that should be presented in context or sequence to be understood. It is however, very effective for introducing and/or reinforcing key facts, steps and discrete procedures.
MicroLearning is cheaper to design and develop than traditional eLearningWith the assumption that a MicroLearning module is short, perhaps only 3 to 6 minutes long, and a typical eLearning Module is 20 to 30 minutes long or longer, a MicroLearning module is much cheaper. MicroLearning may also repurpose existing or inexpensive media like slides, charts, infographics, or checklists to keep the cost per minute low. However, the cost per minute can be much higher when developing highly impactful and (presumably) more effective learning activities that might incorporate video, games and simulations (whether it is for MicroLearning or traditional eLearning).
MicroLearning is a substitute for eLearningMicroLearning is a sub-set of eLearning and is a valuable resource for reinforcing knowledge, increasing retention, and providing just in time knowledge and understanding at the point of need. It makes material available to learners to which they may not otherwise have easy access and it is an effective supplement to a larger distance learning program. However, it is not a blanket substitute for traditional eLearning.

Finally, while MicroLearning may not fit all the training and education requirements of every organization, it does fill a gap in helping organizations overcome specific learning and performance shortfalls in a short period of time, and at minimal cost.

What is Driving MicroLearning Adoption?

Although by the results of the 2017 Association for Talent Development survey, MicroLearning is still in the adoption stage, it has been pushed rapidly to this level by advances related to mobile device technology and applications, as well as rapidly increasing wireless availability and bandwidth. Recent announcements and plans for expanding 5G wireless technology can be expected to increase the pace of MicroLearning’s adoption. It is also not surprising that this has accelerated over the last several years as organizations, their functions/processes, and their training audiences have continued to become less geographically-focused.

Aside from the availability of enabling technology, probably the most significant driving force for the rise MicroLearning’s popularity is “change” itself. Rapidly introduced innovations and product changes, new processes and procedures, and increasingly complex compliance requirements have become the rule and not the exception for nearly every organization. And, as with most things in a competitive and global environment, organizations must be able to respond rapidly to these changes. Because of its relatively low cycle time, from recognizing the training need to fielding a solution, and its suitability for focusing on specific learning outcomes that are synced with business priorities, MicroLearning is increasingly becoming a “go to” modality, particularly in highly competitive and regulated industries such as finance and pharmaceuticals. By enabling learners to rapidly acquire and sustain key skills and competencies, adopting MicroLearning as part of an organization’s performance development strategy enhances productivity and provides a significant return on investment.

Recent studies also support the concept of breaking learning into smaller chunks. Brian Dwyer, writing in the journal of the Staff and Educational Development Association, explains that, according to brain research, a learner’s ability to sustain attention is affected by the periodic variations of the neurotransmitters in the brain that regulate attention. The brain works in periods of high attention levels followed by multiple periods of low attention levels. These variations occur at regular intervals of 90 minutes. Learners stop focusing or tune out if adequate breaks are not incorporated in training. MicroLearning provides both the ability to “chunk” material into attention-grabbing bites, and a vehicle for reinforcing previously introduced knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs).

And finally, but certainly not the only remaining driver of MicroLearning’s increasing rate of adoption, is the changing makeup of the workforce. According to studies by Alorica, a provider of outsourced communication solutions that employs thousands of home-based agents, by 2025 Millennials will make up 75% of the workforce and their average attention span may be as little as 90 seconds. MicroLearning as a learning strategy then becomes a potentially effective means of overcoming the challenge of short attention spans. Although millennials are anecdotally more prone to distraction than other populations, the idea of limited attention span is widely supported and MicroLearning is potentially a good solution for the training and education of the future workforce.

MicroLearning Examples

A large number of organizations have already implemented MicroLearning to various degrees– from focusing on specific immediate requirements like safety issues, to meeting new compliance requirements, and supporting product rollouts. Others have chosen to implement it more widely as a key component of their learning and development strategy.  Here are some examples.

Safety and Compliance. WalMart operates one of the largest distribution networks in the world and safety is critical to safeguarding the workforce and minimizing costs associated with accidents and injuries. Efficiencies that reduce these costs can save millions of dollars. Walmart worked with their vendor to develop a series of 3 to 5 minute MicroLearning courses that use gaming to improve knowledge and retention of safety practices. Learners answer a series of questions related to a specific safety topic and receive instant feedback on current, as well as past responses. There is also a head-to-head component. They see where they need improvement while reinforcing existing knowledge. A result of the initiative is a 54% decrease in recordable safety incidents with a 15% increase in employee knowledge on safety topics (source).

Onboarding and Sales. Asurint is a full-service background screening company for employers and uses technology as part of its work processes. As they began to employ a growing number of Millenials they realized a growing need for a 21st century approach to training. Their solution was to implement MicroLearning as a component of their learning and development program including all the initial requirements around onboarding, compliance, data security, industry-specific regulations, and HR training. After that, employees can access whatever lessons they want in order to reach their own professional goals. The result was that training time for new hires to the sales team was reduced from 6-8 weeks to 4 weeks and sales team new hire retention increased by 100%. In addition, more than 25% of the lessons viewed are self-directed rather than assigned, which means employees are proactively taking control of their own professional development (source).

Customer Service.  International Hotels Group (IHG) has over 5,000 hotels globally and relied on periodic classroom training for its employees. However, with the rapid growth and increasing complexity of customer service requests, IHG required a more responsive approach to training. They converted a large portion of their training to a series of engaging MicroLearning modules for use by both customer service reps and training managers. The lessons were available in multiple languages on any device at any time. Within just two days of launching the new system, IHG learners had accessed lessons more than 5,500 times and onboarding time was reduced from five weeks to two weeks, with employees now scoring higher on post-training knowledge tests. (source).

Delivery Methods and Features

Not surprisingly, MicroLearning’s early adopters and technology innovators helped to shape what have become its leading-edge features. As with earlier advances in eLearning, such as the introduction of Learning Management Systems, “WYSIWYG” and rapid development authoring software, innovation and risk were the keys to success as software and service providers rushed forward with new MicroLearning offerings. Also not surprising is that, “Software as a Service” (SaaS) was, and to a degree still is, the dominant model as startup software companies seek to capitalize on their investment and risk. Common features of these MicroLearning delivery platforms typically include a device-friendly user interface with role-based functionality, built-in authoring with gamification and quizzes, progress tracking, leaderboards, and evaluation management/reports. Additional features might include a content library and rewards management. Many vendors will also work with clients to implement single sign-on capabilities and integration with the organization’s Learning/Talent Management System. One of the early innovators, QStream, partnered with Harvard University in 2008 to pioneer in the predictive analytics sector, where they combined mobile and gamification technology with data analysis to produce business intelligence that enables sales managers to quickly and proactively align the behaviors of their sales people with growth initiatives. A number of other MicroLearning companies now also include some degree of advanced analytics as part of their reporting functionality. According to Chris Pappas of, other top vendor platforms in this space include Talent Cards, Mlevel, HandyTrain, Skill Pill, Gnowbe, Smartup, Grovo, OttoLearn, SwissVBS, and Speechme.

There are, however, alternatives to these vendor-centric solutions. One is to use existing delivery platforms and develop new and/or repurpose conventional eLearning courses to produce 3-6 minute mini-modules. These can be grouped as curricula for specific target audiences while enrollment and pre-requisite features of the Learning or Talent Management System can be leveraged to create functionality for reinforcement, reach-back and just-in-time learning. Custom data reports leveraging SCORM (Shareable Content Object Reference Model) can then provide surprisingly detailed analytics. Depending on the subject matter, audience, and reporting functionalities, this may be all that is needed. For many, this can be a perfectly acceptable low-cost and rapidly implemented solution. It might even be paired with a more robust SaaS program to create a best-value, comprehensive approach to implementing MicroLearning.

Another alternative is to leverage the more recently introduced Experience Application Program Interface (xAPI) to add additional levels of analytics to in-house or vendor-developed MicroLearning modules. Because xAPI can capture detailed data about any type of learning it can elevate the idea of SCORM to record learner interactions with activities embedded in MicroLearning modules. This data is in an actor-verb-object format and recorded in a Learning Record Store (LRS) which can be integrated with a Learning Management System. Examples of activities that can recorded using xAPI are nearly limitless, but include: videos, games, simulations, documents, and graphics—virtually a made-to-order menu for building MicroLearning content. Using xAPI to provide detailed analytics is shown in the sample, “John D. Learner” “mastered” the “Deal Closing Game”.  This xAPI statement could be used in combination with others to record detailed data on a learner’s interactions with multiple activities in the module.

The xAPI statement for this interaction would be:

   “actor”: {
      “name”: ” John D. Learner “,
      “mbox”: “”

   “verb”: {
      “id”: “”,
      “display”: { “en-US”: “mastered” }

   “object”: {
      “id”: “http://mycompanylms/curricula/sales/microlearning/closing-the-deal”,
      “definition”: {
      “name”: { “en-US”: “Closing the Deal” }

Finally, a less disruptive and instructionally sound solution is to develop eLearning modules that contain a series of “mini” modules that are grouped as a curriculum that covers a specific subject area such as “Customer-focused Selling of Product X.” The different mini-modules within that curriculum would be immediately and easily accessible from a central menu. Such a MicroLearning “lite” approach relies on solid instructional design principles and groups a number of learning objectives in a logical manner similar to conventional eLearning and could also leverage SCORM and/or xAPI reporting to produced detailed analytics.

Best Practices

When it comes to best practices for MicroLearning, like traditional eLearning, they should have a solid foundation based on Instructional Systems Design (ISD) principles and the ADDIE process (Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement and Evaluate). This ensures individual Learning Objectives (LOs) or learning outcomes are identified and linked to specific performance outcomes and KSAs that help achieve the organization’s objectives (e.g., attracting and retaining customers, increasing sales channel performance, reducing customer fulfillment and support costs, meeting strategic objectives). However, with MicroLearning it is even more important that learning outcomes be precisely defined and linked to narrowly defined, specific Los. An example for a sales representative seeking to attract or retain a customer might be,  “How our product X is superior to competitor product Y.”

Additionally, because MicroLearning modules are very short they need to be concise, impactful and engaging. They should be designed for the moment of need and incorporate thoughtfully selected media that support the type of learning desired. For example, a colorful but simple infographic may be best for a module describing procedures; a scenario with a game is useful for reinforcing and/or introducing desired behaviors; a video or simulation is appropriate for presenting concepts. Appropriate analytics should also be defined as part of this design process and included for use by the development team during development.

Once the desired learning outcome is identified and the media design is complete, it is important to develop the MicroLearning module as a single Learning Object that can be taken and understood by the learner without requiring context or reference to external sources, such as other modules. This not only conforms to basic MicroLearning principles, but also basic SCORM and xAPI technical requirements. The result is a module package that is portable and capable of being delivered without regard to platform or method. To support impactfulness, development should be of sufficiently high quality to appear professional and be engaging for the learner. This includes the use of attractive graphics, layout, and user interface.

Once completed, it is important to thoroughly test the module for desired loading, delivery, and end-user functionality, as well as effectiveness in achieving the learning outcome. This is best done using the desired delivery platform and a sample of the target audience. It is critical to check the analytics at this point and to verify that all the defined user interactions are being recorded. Pilot group user surveys can help determine if the desired outcome of the module has been achieved. Once the module has been fielded, and in order to further verify its effectiveness, it is also critical to compare the learning outcome data to the achievement of the targeted organizational or business objective(s).

Lastly, here are some additional “best practice” tips from MicroLearning design and development professionals:

  • Actively engage learners with micro-interactions such as selecting a “like” button to show they have learned what they needed from an infographic graphic. They might also answer a quiz and receive stars for the performance. These micro-interactions help learners to focus more on the content.
  • End a module with a call-to-action which is a simple, concrete and small win that achieves a learning outcome and provides learner satisfaction.
  • Develop or repurpose short games, quizzes, and videos and include them in MicroLearning courses to increase effectiveness and reinforce previously learned material.
  • Tell and show learners how long it will take to complete a module. Much of MicroLearning is done during “in-between” time such as before a meeting, or during computer or production down time. It is frustrating for learners to begin a module and be unable to complete it.
  • Map content containing concepts to an action that the learner must perform on the job. This provides the learner with better understanding and supports business performance.
  • Use MicroLearning for quick wins such as training on new product or services, or training the salesforce on an interesting negotiation technique.
  • Include scenarios and case studies to help learners understand what action needs to be performed or the learning outcome that needs to be accomplished. This will especially improve the retention and application of concepts on the job.
  • Leverage existing media and resources by using xAPI to record learner interactions. Examples are Ted Talks or YouTube videos.
  • Make it fun. Include competition, benchmarking against peers, and social media to increase learner engagement, retention of learning outcomes and manager involvement.
  • Be open and transparent about the objective behind the program and how it relates to business and professional goals. For example, if sales quota achievement has dropped, explain how the program is designed to sharpen sales skills, help them achieve their quota, and meet the overall sales goal to release the end-of-year bonus pool.
  • Listen to learners and solicit feedback to increase learner engagement and help improve program effectiveness.
  • Continuously monitor both learning and business data and make tweaks to deployed modules as needed to update the content, keep it fresh, and better support learning and business outcomes.


The purpose of this paper has been to help the Training and Development professional understand more about MicroLearning and offer insights on why and how MicroLearning can become part of their learning and development initiatives. We explored what MicroLearning is and is not, examined how it can be implemented and delivered, then finally identified some best practices for how to make MicroLearning a successful component of a broader program of training and organizational development.

We hope this information is useful to you. However, if you would like to learn more about this topic we suggest following industry resources such as and the LinkedIn eLearning groups.

The author, Brian Popken, is the managing director of Pinnacle Group Learning Solutions (, is a leader and thinker in the field of eLearning, and has spent over 20 years in the industry. He has wide ranging learning technology experience including consulting for Fortune and Global 500 companies. You can contact him at

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