• December 03, 2019

The Definitive Guide to Microlearning

Microlearning has become a popular way of training employees in the flow of work. Over the next few weeks and months, we will be doing a micro-series on microlearning; delivering short, micro-content on the what, why, and the how-to guide to microlearning.At the end of this blog series, we will publish a downloadable guide to microlearning

Microlearning’s power comes from the shorter duration of learning. In this microlearning blog series, you will discover an in-depth look and understanding of why microlearning is effective. Microlearning is a logical response to a fast-paced society, driven towards learning efficiency:

  • How do you learn faster?
  • How do you retain more information?
  • How do you retain information for a longer period of time?
  • How do you learn and retain the right information?
  • How do you learn, retain, and know how to transfer your knowledge to other challenges?
  • How do you scale and manage the quality of learning to different people from different places, with different backgrounds and different motivations?
  • How do you do all of this simultaneously?

Chapter 1: What is Microlearning

Chapter 2: A Micro-History on Microlearning

Chapter 3. What’s the difference between Microlearning and Macrolearning?

Chapter 1. What is Microlearning?

Let’s break the word down into 2 chunks:


Very small

Involving minute quantities or variations

The activity or process of gaining knowledge or skill by studying, practicing, being taught, or experiencing something

Knowledge or skill acquired by instruction or study

Modification of the behavioural tendency by experience (such as exposure to conditioning)

To cause something to be in your memory by studying it

Microlearning has a few nicknames:

  • Micro-elearning
  • Short courses
  • Bites/Bite-sized learning
  • Chunks
  • Snacks
  • Bursts
  • Micro-content
  • Micromedia

Microlearning can be defined as:

Short and small chunks of information used to meet a specific learning outcome. There is no definitive time requirement for microlearning, but typically microlearning content takes the learner 1-10 minutes to consume.

5 Micro-quotes about Microlearning from the experts

  1. “[Microlearning] is based on the idea of developing small chunks of learning content and flexible technologies that can enable learners to access them more easily in specific moments and conditions of the day, for example during time breaks or while on the move” (1).
  2. “Microlearning content is short and focused enough to meet an immediate need. It is a video, article, blog, ebook, audio clip or another form of content that can be indexed and found easily” (2).
  3. “...things we can quickly read, view, or consume and they only take 10 minutes or less. These may be a video, a blog, or a set of instructional questions that help us think differently than we did before. We as information-seeking animals consume this kind of material all day, and most of the news sites and social networks now offer such learning in a massive, curated stream” (3).
  4. "No matter if learning refers to the process of building up and organizing knowledge, to the change of behaviour, of attitudes, of values, of mental abilities, of cognitive structures, of emotional reactions, of action patterns or of societal dimensions, in all cases we have the possibility to consider micro, meso and macro aspects of the various views on more or less persisting changes and sustainable alterations of performances" (4).
  5. “Learning from content accessed in short bursts, content which is relevant to the individual, and repeated over time to ensure retention and build conceptual understanding” (52).

Chapter 2. A Micro-History on Microlearning

Once upon a time, we lived in a world without computers, the internet, mobile phones, devoid of the power to access information that was buried in stacks of paper. Take a look at the 200+ year micro-history of Microlearning:

The 1800s

Charles Babbage, a British mathematician, invented the Analytical Engine, the first computer resembling the computers we have today after borrowing technology from the weaving machine known as the Loom also known as the Jacquard or Weaving Machine (26)


Alan Turing, proposed the concept of the ‘universal computing machine’ also known as the ‘universal Turing machine’ or a-machine (automatic machine). Turing is the father of the modern computer (27)


PLATO, (Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations) the first learning platform was developed. A computer-based education system was created in 1960 by Donald L. Bitzer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). In addition to being used successfully as a teaching tool, PLATO also spawned one of the first successful online communities (5)


Time magazine named the computer its “Man of the Year” (6)


The World Wide Web was given life when a British researcher-developed Hypertext Markup Language, or HTML (7)


EKKO, The first fully-featured Learning Management System (LMS) was developed and released by Norway's NKI Distance Education Network (8)


The National Science Foundation (NSF) removed restrictions on the commercial use of the Internet, giving internet access to the world (9)


The Nokia 9000 Communicator, the first all-in-one phone, fax, calendar, email and internet in hand portable size, was released.


The first Microlearning conference was held in Austria (10)


Apple released the first iPhone, and iTunes U (11)(12)
"It's just an amazing way for lifelong learners to get more material,"
said Chris Bell, Apple's director of worldwide marketing for iTunes.


Mobile web browsing overtakes desktop browsing for the first time (13)


It is a fast-paced, “on-the-go” society. The way we solve problems has been disrupted by the introduction of the internet. You want to know how to put together an Ikea desk but you can’t find the manual? Google it. You want to learn Spanish? Download the Duolingo app and practice during your commute to work. Every day, we are microlearning. Anything is possible when you can find and act on information.

The history continues

Chapter 3. What’s the difference between Microlearning and Macrolearning?

  Macrolearning Microlearning
What does the prefix mean? large, long, over time, large scale A micro - small, short, minute in scale
What is it? Developing a new skill and level of understanding Exploring concepts and solving practical problems
What is the desired outcome of learning? The learner wants a new skill or deeper understanding of a concept Learner wants to solve a specific problem.
What is the content like?
  • Large modules
  • Elements of formal learning
  • Complex issues
  • Learning arranged over time
  • Small nuggets of information
  • Elements of informal learning
  • Simplex issues
  • Learning just-in-time, on-the-job
When is it important in the workplace? Understanding the job, people, systems, strategies, industry, environment Injections of new information at all career stages to solve various problems faced every day
How long does it take? Hours - Days 1 second - 15 minutes

Courses, classes, MOOCs

Mr. Miyagi training the Karate Kid to be a martial arts master

I want to learn Photoshop

For the first month, we will do onboarding and compliance training to get you up to speed.

I took a course in Spanish and studied abroad and I am now fluent

Course Textbooks

Video, blog, instructions

The Karate Kid learning to “wax on, wax off.”

I want to crop an image

Watch this 2-minute video on how to set up your work computer.

I learned how to say "where is the bathroom?'' in Spanish.

Snapple Fact

6 More Examples of Microlearning

1. Microcopy

Short, targeted, highly contextual messages or hints, to help users learn.


  • Error messages
  • Contact form explainers
  • eCommerce hints

Tooltip from Google Drive explaining that every revision on the document is saved
Tooltip from Google Drive explaining that every revision on the document is saved

2. Microlearning videos

Short, focused videos that are designed to meet a specific learning outcome. Microlearning videos can be designed to be: A standalone nugget that offers a specific learning takeaway. A part of a longer learning path.


  • Explainer videos
  • Brief & interactive videos
  • Micro-lectures
  • Whiteboard animations
  • Kinetic text-based animations

Ted Talks are micro-lectures that feature an expert speaking on a specific topic, limited to a maximum of 18 minutes
Ted Talks are micro-lectures that feature an expert speaking on a specific topic, limited to a maximum of 18 minutes

3. Microlearning apps or mobile apps

Apps that give you micro-lessons, on-the-go


4. Micro-challenges and games

Learning that is scored at the end, that can include an award, benefits, badges, notoriety, or other incentives for taking part or achieving a high score.


  • Multiple question quizzes
  • Polls, flashcards
  • Question & responses
  • Simulations
  • Learner recordings to answer questions

5. Infographics

Infographics (and often iconic, focusing on key points and numerical values) are graphic visual representations of information, data, or knowledge.


  • Statistical infographics
  • Informational infographics
  • Timeline infographics
  • Process infographics
  • Geographic infographics
  • Comparison infographics
  • Hierarchical infographics
  • List infographics

infographic example in microlearning

6. Social Media

Social media can be used as a micro-blogging exercise, and you can learn nuggets of information from the stream of content you subscribe to. Social media can be used as an activity feed of online communities of practice.

140 character snippets of news on social media

  • Twitter
  • Wall Street Journal
  • LinkedIn
  • Reddit