A common question the Artisan E-Learning team hears concerns how long microlearning should be. The answer is the same as for any training: It should be exactly as long as it needs to be. If you want to accomplish a goal through training, the resulting asset shouldn’t be one minute longer than it needs to be. And it shouldn’t be one minute shorter than it needs to be, either. If you are implementing a microlearning strategy, you don’t need to focus on how to make your courses small. Instead, focus on how to make your goals small.

Let’s take a look at an example. Our client, in the banking industry, wanted to use microlearning to help bank tellers with customer service skills. How might you break something like that down into small, focused goals that can be achieved with microlearning?

First, think about the learner—we’ll call him Joe. What’s one thing Joe is dealing with that he could use help with? Let’s say that he is sometimes rude to customers. We could try to tackle how to be more polite with customers. That’s too broad for microlearning, though. 

Narrow down your goal

Here’s a sample conversation you can have with your team (or yourself) to help narrow down a goal like that.

Q: It’s some random Tuesday in November. What’s happening where Joe is being rude to a customer?

A: He’s dealing with an upset customer.

Q: Why is the customer upset?

A: Oh, there are lots of reasons…

Q: What might be happening on this particular Tuesday?

A: He has to tell a customer something she doesn’t want to hear, and she gets upset.

Now we are getting somewhere. Customer service is too broad. Being more polite is too broad. But delivering unpopular news is something that can be accomplished in microlearning.

Try to go even further.

Q: It’s 9:34 a.m. on that Tuesday in November. That customer walks up. Joe has to give her bad news. What’s the bad news?

A: She was depositing a large check, and he had to put a hold on it. She was hoping the funds would be available immediately. 

See (Figure 1) how we’ve gone from customer service, to being more polite, to delivering bad news, to delivering bad news about holds on checks? That’s way more feasible in a short microlesson. Really, either one of the last two might work, perhaps using the check hold as the example for delivering bad news in general. But the super-specific nature of a microlesson focused on check holds is appealing, assuming it is an important and common issue.

With the focus on one specific skill or situation, it’s possible to cover the required knowledge in a short amount of time and still have time left over to provide practice opportunities—something that is often left out of microlearning. Plus, laser-focused microlessons can be used for performance support or targeted interventions when an employee is struggling with that particular issue.

Figure 1:
Microlearning best addresses narrowly defined goals.

ALT: A pyramid illustrates the need to narrow a microlearning goal from an overly broad goal to a focused one.

Help your “Joe” perform better

If you’d like to explore this concept further, register for The eLearning Guild’s Microlearning Summit on February 20 – 21. In their session “Learning by Practice: Microlearning with Immediate Application,” Diane Elkins will walk you through a microlearning design template that includes identifying Joe and what he’s dealing with on some random Tuesday in November—and how thinking about that can help you home in on a specific, narrow goal that you can address in a short eLearning asset.