In our field there are many things we love, like creating really cool solutions that make an impact on our learner base. Then there are the things that make us question why we hang around to see said cool solution come to fruition, such as being asked to incorporate microlearning because it’s the newest innovation since sliced bread.

Sliced bread aside, you will inevitably be asked why your team isn’t converting eLearning to microlearning. If you are like me, you want to be able to provide an informed answer with sound points to substantiate your position. Perhaps you are not running from the request but trying to embrace it. Either way, you need to know which current training can work for microlearning and why!

Defining microlearning

This article uses points from Microlearning: Short and Sweet, a new book that I co-authored with Karl M. Kapp. We will dig into a method for evaluating the potential of current training for microlearning and provide a starting point that makes approaching the task more manageable.

Let’s start with the definition of microlearning from our book:

Microlearning is an instructional unit that provides a short engagement in an activity intentionally designed to elicit a specific outcome from the participant.

Think about a powerful infographic teaching and guiding students in a cafeteria on why and how to dispose of their refuse in a more sustainable way.

Consider a series of emails distributed over time to employees on the topic of privacy compliance. Each email focuses on an issue related to being compliant and provides a link to the HR website—where employees take a short quiz to see how well they know that facet of privacy compliance. Leaderboards track departments’ average scores during the compliance campaign.

Imagine a professional development mobile app that coaches employees on skills like influencing stakeholders, motivating employees, identifying risk, and so on. It does this through a variety of engagements including, but not limited to, podcasts, videos, interactive PDFs, branching scenarios, and animations.

These examples highlight short engagements with an activity that was designed to achieve a specific outcome. And they are all examples of microlearning.

Define the purpose of the microlearning

Armed with a definition and a few examples of microlearning in action, you can look at your training and evaluate whether it is a fit.

Start by defining the purpose and goals of moving to a microlearning format. Do you want to:

  • Provide additional ways for the learner to engage with content?
  • Modify the performance or behavior of employees?
  • Support employees in their job roles with more accessible, targeted content vital to performance?
  • Expand the content by creating opportunities to use it in contextualized ways?

Note that converting eLearning to microlearning isn’t only about finding content that will work in the new format. It’s about performance and performance outcomes. For each question, I am asking you to evaluate the potential participation of the employee in the microlearning piece in support of their work performance.

With that in mind, think about three types of training:

  1. Static training, with content that rarely changes and might be used for onboarding, compliance, or foundational topics
  2. Training that specifically focuses on improving operations and revenue for the business, including customer-focused training and training on managing change
  3. Training focused on supporting and improving employee performance, including role-related training or leadership training

These types of training entail increasing levels of effort to effectively convert them to microlearning. Changing the delivery method requires revising the way content is presented, and it changes how learners engage. Microlearning is evaluated differently from other forms of training and requires a different mindset regarding how training should function and how it supports employees. Conversion must consider these factors to ensure instructionally sound microlearning.

Zoom in on compliance training

Many people believe that compliance training is the easiest to convert to microlearning, so we’ll zoom in on that example.

A common topic for compliance is privacy. We could definitely take the self-paced annual training and make it into microlearning. Cutting it up in its current state will not make it microlearning though!

In looking at our four questions above, we determine that we want to expand the content by using context. We want our employees to use their knowledge from the compliance training in common settings that tend to violate privacy. We think that’s going to help the learners recall the requirements for being compliant, which in turn could improve our company’s compliance rating. Sound likes performance to me!

At its most basic, privacy compliance training generally consists of a standard set of guidelines or a framework and the organization’s policies and management within that framework.

In an eLearning course, employees might be asked to recall what is defined as personal data according to the policies of your organization. A screen like this might be familiar:

Personal data includes aspects of person such as their full name, a home address, online identifiers such as social media handles, their income, and their health information. There are other facets, for example, a person’s gender, political views, etc.

This screen may be followed by similar screens filled with information, all intended to tell learners what drives policy and what violates policy. Reread the last part again: What violates policy—this is performance. But the training wasn’t designed to elicit performance; it was designed to provide, then test recall of, knowledge and facts.

An opportunity for microlearning

When seeking to expand rather dry content, like the above example, and add context, we can use our definition of microlearning:

  • Instructional Unit: This would be “violations of personal data privacy.”
  • Short engagement: Microlearning could still be text on a screen, but the information would be presented in a case scenario rather than as factual statements.
  • Elicits a specific outcome: The desired outcome is the learner’s demonstrated ability to evaluate the presented scenario and determine whether a violation has occurred and what factors contributed.

The “context” is provided by presenting a scenario.

Reworking the text as mini-scenarios that ask learners to recall items that comprise personal data and determine whether a specific use of them is a violation of policy is an engaging and worthwhile use of microlearning.

Converting a long training module on this subject matter with screen after screen of information into microlearning requires:

  1. Selecting one performance outcome, such as identifying a violation of personal data privacy
  2. Selecting the relevant content from the module
  3. Devising scenarios where learners could apply this information
  4. Building an instructional unit around the content and scenarios

Clearly, privacy compliance is about more than identifying violations. Multiple related microlearning units will be required to cover all of the nuances. Converting the entire privacy compliance training module to microlearning will require inventorying all potential violations and policies, defining specific outcomes desired for each, and repurposing content to engage learners and elicit those specific performance outcomes. Broad topics might include reporting violations, determining out-of-date policies, reprimanding violators, and so on.

Learner engagement

Some readers might be thinking that this example falls short on the engagement aspect.

Microlearning can take many shapes: We could create video vignettes or engage learners in role-playing. The format was not the focus of this article. Rather, the goal was to show how quickly and easily a set of evaluative prompts can help you see the potential for creating microlearning units from any training topic or content you are evaluating.

The discussion of the correct approach to conversion entails additional considerations: time, talent, and resources. This is the topic of a future article. Meanwhile, readers are invited to share their conversion projects and approach.