Senior L&D executives are hearing a lot of industry chatter about microlearning. There are many sound reasons to embrace microlearning in online training—whether it’s a two-minute explainer video, a 10-minute branching scenario, or a 20-minute eLearning course. Indeed, short learning objects are faster to create, easier to maintain, more transferable from one hosting platform to another, and, perhaps most importantly, don’t take employees away from their work for longer than it takes to go for a walk. Yet not all microlearning is memorable.

If they are not targeted to meet a very specific need, if they use the wrong tone for the audience, or if the combination of words, images, activities, and/or animation don’t work together to create maximum impact, short videos, scenarios, and online courses will miss the mark just like long, dull eLearning courses. If you’ve ever fast-forwarded through an infomercial, you’ve skipped over a well-intentioned but ineffective example of microlearning. Microlearning does not guarantee memorable learning.

When is microlearning appropriate?

So when should an organization incorporate microlearning? When it makes sense to do so! Like gamification, branching scenarios, and augmented and virtual reality, microlearning is simply another design technique to use when a company wants to introduce something in an interesting way, create awareness of a new workplace tool or practice, or roll out a series of short learning experiences that allow for spaced practice. 

The Five Moments of Need described by Conrad Gottfredson and Bob Mosher can be a useful model to keep in mind when deciding whether microlearning fits the bill. What do people need when being introduced to a new way of doing something? How can we support them as they learn more and apply their new skills? What happens when they need to problem-solve or change the way they are doing something? The answer can be found in short explainer videos, well-written performance aids, tightly designed branching scenarios, or a motivating podcast or recorded keynote speech—all of which fall into the microlearning category. 

If you choose the microlearning route, remember that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. eLearning designers and decision-makers can look for inspiration from successful YouTubers, shift their gaze to the advertising industry, or listen to the best TED Talks of all time. All of these examples of microlearning outside of the eLearning sphere share a few elements: a new take on something familiar; a likable person or narrator with an engaging tone; a compelling story with emotional appeal; excellent accompanying visuals; and a team to bring all those elements together.

Not all microlearning is memorable, but it is a worthy goal to strive for.