The rise of microlearning

At the start of the new year, I hear and read about people’s New Year’s resolution involving learning or acquiring new skills, may it be professional or personal, like a new programming language, or technical writing, or even learning how to bake. Such is the right attitude in the midst of the 4th Industrial Revolution where many skills will become obsolete in the future because of emerging technologies. But the issue of many is how to fit learning into their busy schedules. Enter microlearning.

Microlearning is all about providing bite-sized learning content in small doses of training material you can comprehend in a short time, as opposed to the traditional content-heavy classroom of some eLearning modules. Its key features are that it is performed in short time bursts, requires little effort from individual sessions, and involves simple and/or narrow topics.

Some microlearning examples are watching small instructional videos on YouTube, solving mini training quizzes, computer screensaver with content, flashcard content that presents the learner with flashcards with limited content such as new words or list of countries, and receiving small chunks of information via email, SMS, or messaging.

The concept of microlearning is not new. A 2011 study by Dr. Martin Hilbert and his team at the University of Southern California revealed that the growth in the internet, 24-hour television and mobile phones means that we now receive five times as much information every day as we did in 1986. Each person also churns out a daily average of six newspapers worth of information in forms of email, social media and messaging compared with just two and a half pages 24 years ago. This means that we have been used to producing and consuming microlearning content.

What’s interesting is that we’re seeing a surge of interest among human resources management (HRM), organization development (OD), and learning and development (L&D) practitioners on the use of microlearning in the workplace to help augment traditional learning activities such as classroom type and long eLearning modules. This is because they recognize the need to come up with a holistic approach to learning in the workplace to build new skills and change behavior.

In our study, the traditional classroom and online trainings account for only 10 percent of the behavior change in the workplace. The rest are primarily coming from sustaining activities such as on-the-job coaching and employee communications through microlearning approaches. Research has also shown that we learn more and retain better when we study in short focused bursts than when we’re forced to sit through hour-long classes.

With inexpensive and easy-to-deploy cloud technology these days, microlearning is even more powerful. Learning management systems (LMS), apart from having the capability to deploy course-based online training, can also deploy microlearning by integrating into the company’s messaging platform. Even primitive forms of microlearning such as flashcards and quizzes, when combined with modern LMS, can even be more effective when linked to available content, when added with multimedia elements, and employed with gamification strategies.

Microlearning is likewise a potent tool to help change the behavior of employees, when implementing a new system that needs to be adopted and used by employees, or inculcating a new mindset to become more agile and competitive. Microlearning techniques such as spaced repetition, wherein content is shown to the learner at specific intervals, enhances retention and eventually leading to behavior change.

Combined with other learning approaches, microlearning can also deliver quicker results. As smaller bits of information are much easier to remember and be applied, you don’t have to wait long to notice individual improvements.

With technology at the helm of microlearning, teaching and learning can happen anytime and from anywhere, enabling the organization to scale the learning process to multiple sites in a cost-effective way.

But microlearning is not a cure-all approach to replace traditional eLearning methods which can deliver large bodies of knowledge. Microlearning is intended to be a supplement to eLearning and traditional classroom learning activities.

The author is President & CEO of Hungry Workhorse Consulting, a digital and culture transformation firm. He is the Chairman of the Information and Communications Technology Committee of the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines. He teaches strategic management in the MBA Program of De La Salle University. The author may be emailed at