Microlessons star as just-in-time learning, performance support, and refreshers or “fine-tuning” of previously learned, potentially complex information, according to Diane Elkins and Tanya Seidel of Artisan E-Learning. They are ideal for sales reps, who “need to know little things about a lot of products,” Elkins said.

When else might microlessons be appropriate?

“It’s not ‘everything you need to know’ about a certain topic,” Elkins said. “So, if you’re covering sales, you wouldn’t have a microlesson on how to be a great salesperson; that would just be so superficial. But if it’s ‘three quick tips on how to deal with a price objection,’ well, that’s just a quick hit I can get—I’m about to go to a meeting, I know they don’t like my price, I can go to that meeting, and beforehand, I can watch this video or take this course.”

Elkins cites another example where microlessons are a perfect fit: “I was talking to a potential customer … one of those companies where they sell products through individual reps who sell from their home or through parties,” she said. “They said, ‘The more knowledgeable people are on our products, the better they’ll sell them. And most of them are working moms.’” With microlessons, those reps can be sitting in their cars, “and they’ve got an extra five minutes, and they can pull out their phone and get up to speed on the features and benefits of the new product,” Elkins said.

Solutions-based learning

Seidel explains that microlessons are more solutions-based than conventional eLearning. “People are going to go to them because of a specific problem or need or challenge they have,” she said. “It is need-driven, as opposed to ‘the company wants you to have this set of skills.’”

That fits with another scenario that Elkins described: “I already know how to run a meeting, but I have some difficult participants and one person who always hogs the show, or we have some trouble reaching group consensus. So let me just take a quick video on that one skill. It’s not going to give me everything that I need, but it solves a very specific problem that I’m having in my day right now.”

Learner “pull” is a primary factor driving use of microlessons. “It’s the YouTube concept, basically,” Seidel said. “I’ve changed a toilet, I’ve installed floors—all from a video that I’ve watched on YouTube. It’s that same kind of concept of looking for something to meet an immediate need.”

Even so, she said that Artisan E-Learning has also seen (and created) successful microlearning where organizations pushed the courses to learners. “We’ve seen microlearning used in gap training, for bridging skills gaps,” Seidel said. “That same client is turning around and is now using it as employee onboarding training” to give new employees a quick introduction to the company’s products.

Elkins adds that microlessons might be pushed to learners to reinforce earlier learning. “We all went through some training last week on dealing with an angry customer, so I’m going to push out to everybody this five-minute refresher or deeper dive on ‘Four Things You Should Never Say to an Angry Customer.’”

Find it fast

The “just-in-time” nature of microlessons means that learners often look for them when they are short on time. They’re waiting for an appointment, riding the train, or about to go into that sales meeting with the difficult client. Microlessons should be cataloged in the LMS, have effective tagging—and, above all, be supported by strong search ability. Learners “should be able to go in and type ‘difficult meeting participants,’ and something should come up,” Elkins said. “They do it because they want something short and sweet. So if it takes five minutes to find—it shouldn’t take longer to find it than it takes to watch it.”

Many forms and functions

As far as format goes, microlessons can be videos, text, games—“I think anything is fair game,” Seidel said. A microlesson might teach a single skill, reinforce prior learning, or simply make an important point.

A recent project that Elkins described wasn’t even really teaching: “We just finished a project where we really challenged ourselves to say, ‘What else could it be?’ In some cases, it wasn’t even traditional training at all. We did a few things on meeting skills,” she said. “One of the things we did was what I call a ‘benefit builder.’ Yeah, I can teach you the skills, but if you don’t appreciate the benefits—why it’s important to run a meeting effectively—you may not take the training, or you may not take the time to change your behavior.”

The benefit builder was an app that asked the learner to enter some information about a regular meeting: how many people attended, the attendees’ average salary, how often the meeting took place, how long the meeting lasted. The app would then spit out a number—how much that meeting cost the company each year. “It didn’t even really teach a specific skill, but it was designed to make you go, ‘Wow; that meeting costs this company $27,000 a year. I now have a new perspective that’s going to make me manage my meetings differently.’”

And the “skills and drills” format is a microlesson that teaches a single skill. Describing a microlesson on when to write out a number in words vs. using a numeral, Elkins said, “We give the three rules, then 20 questions. One skill—and then you drill it until it’s locked into your memory. That can be way more valuable than taking an hour course with all the grammar skills that you will then forget,” she said. “So yes, you only walked away with one skill. But man, you know it.”

Create a microlesson

Instructional designers, eLearning developers, and training managers who are convinced that microlessons can solve some of their training problems are invited to roll up their sleeves and get creative. Join The eLearning Guild for DevLearn 2017 Conference & Expo, October 25 – 27 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Elkins and Seidel are presenting a pre-conference BYOL (Bring Your Own Laptop®) workshop, “Make a Microlesson in a Day,” on October 24. Workshop participants will build a microlesson, from concept to finished product, during the seminar. Registration is open now!