• January 08, 2020

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 4. Why are Microlearning Videos so Effective?

Chapter 5. Microlearning for Every Generation: Millennials, Gen X, Gen Y, and Every Gen

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

4. Why are Microlearning Videos so Effective?

Video gives you the ability to capture both visual and auditory channels at once, also known as dual coding theory, which allows you to spread the burden for processing the information across these two channels, providing more room for processing and retention. (15) Microlearning videos are short and allow our brains to take a break in order to process the information, helping avoid overloading the capacity of your working memory, also known as “cognitive overload.” Video is a popular mechanism for story-telling. A study by Wistia has shown, that the shorter the video, the more engaged the audience will be. All of these factors demonstrate the power of short, microlearning videos for engaging viewers.

Video is Popular

Global reach People like video People prefer video & learning is better
Youtube uploaded its first video in 2005, and as of 2018, YouTube is localized in 91 countries and can be accessed in 80 different languages. (16) Youtube has nearly 2 billion logged-in monthly users 1 billion hours of YouTube videos are watched daily -- This is the number of hours of video watched on YouTube every day, generating billions of views (16) The average user spends 88% more time on a website with video than a website without one (17). Adding visuals to words improved transfer of learning by 89% (18)

Video is a Storytelling Medium

A picture is worth a thousand words. A video is anywhere from 24-60 frames (pictures) per second. 1 minute of video is worth 1.8 million words (20) "Stories are remembered up to 22 times more than facts alone." (19) “Multimedia presentations (such as narrated animation) are more likely to lead to meaningful learning than single-medium presentations” (like static visuals in a PowerPoint or an audio recording like a podcast), (21)

The shorter the videos, the higher the engagement


5. Microlearning for Every Generation: Gen X, Millennials, Gen Z, and Every Gen

Gen X, Millennials, Gen Z, and future generations will have grown up with mobile phones, the internet, and access to information at a high-speed pace that is likely to keep increasing as new inventions arise.

The combination of the mobile phone and high-speed internet has given life to Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and other social networks. Information sharing, the dawn of data as a currency and data used as a tool to personalize information have all been influential in shaping the most “informed” generations the world has seen thus far. What also makes these generations unique is the desire to learn and develop.

It is important to know and understand the workforce because as of 2019, Millennials are projected to number 73 million, overtaking Baby Boomers as the largest living adult generation (25), and by 2025 Millennials alone will make up 75 percent of the workforce (24).

Generations timeline with explanation

Driven to Earn and Driven to Learn

Millennials are more educated than any generation, but their financial well-being is complicated (25). The Great Recession of 2008 had interesting implications for Millennials. Although Millennials are more educated, their median debt was nearly 50% greater ($19,000) than for Gen X debt holders when they were young ($12,800).

While young adults in general do not have much-accumulated wealth, Millennials have slightly less wealth than Boomers did at the same age. This modest difference in wealth can be partly attributed to differences in debt by generation (25). Compared with earlier generations, more Millennials have outstanding student debt, and the amount of it they owe tends to be greater (25).

It is likely that the complex financial situation for many Millennials and younger generations, is a driving force in their pursuit of learning and development, in order to grow personally, professionally, and financially.

The Learning Generations

According to Gallup's latest report, How Millennials Want to Work and Live, 59% of Millennials say opportunities to learn and grow are extremely important to them when applying for a job (23). Comparatively, 44% of Gen Xers and 41% of baby boomers say the same about these types of opportunities (23).

Additionally, an impressive 87% of millennials rate professional or career growth and development opportunities as important to them in a job -- far more than the 69% of non-Millennials who say the same (23).

As part of their candidate attraction strategy, companies should accentuate their learning and development programs, pointing to tuition reimbursement policies, on-the-job training, means of certification for going from good to great in the same role, participation in conferences and professional organizations, and other learning opportunities.

Furthermore, companies should publicize how managers support employees in meeting their developmental goals. When candidates are speaking to recruiters, interviewers or hiring managers, they should come away with a clear idea of what the organization can offer them in terms of ongoing growth opportunities (23).

More information, Less Time

Millennials and younger generations have more access to information, as well as more information to access. Information saturation requires the time to sift through it, or the tools to help you find what you need. Luckily, platforms like YouTube have nearly perfected their search algorithms, delivering the most relevant content recommendations, which has helped spur microlearning on-the-go.

In fact, 70 percent of Millennial YouTube users watched a video to learn how to do something new last year (28). Engaging educational videos have been so successful that Google announced in October 2018 that it’s investing 20 million into its YouTube Learning initiative, which will pay creators to make even more educational content—explainers, how-tos, lectures, and informational videos (29).

Millennials have fully adapted to Microlearning as a mechanism to cope with limited time and infinite resources. The rise of smartphones has massively contributed to the improved access to learning content from anywhere, and at any time. However, the increased demand for microlearning does not come without its challenges.


1. The Design of MicroLearning Experiences: A Research Agenda

2. Learning in the Flow of Work

3. The Disruption of Digital Learning: Ten Things We Have Learned

4. Micro Learning and Narration Exploring possibilities of utilization of narrations and storytelling for the designing of "micro units" and didactical micro-learning arrangements (Hug 2005, p. 4).

5. PLATO - computer-based education system

6. TIME’s Machine of the Year, 30 Years Later

7. Remembering the Day the World Wide Web Was Born

8. The NKI Internet College: A review of 15 years delivery of 10,000 online courses

9. A Brief History of NSF and the Internet

10. Past Conferences: Microlearning

11. Apple Reinvents the Phone with iPhone

12. iTunes U comes to the iTunes Store

13. Mobile web browsing overtakes desktop for the first time

15. Repetition and dual coding in procedural multimedia presentations. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 22, 877-895

16. YouTube for Press

17. Using Video In Marketing: Why Wouldn't You?

18. Mayer, Richard E. Multimedia Learning. 2nd ed., Cambridge University Press, 2009.

19. Harnessing the Power of Stories

20. A Video Is Worth 1.8 Million Words

21. Why Your Company Should Create Microlearning Videos

22. Does Video Length Matter?

23. How Millennials Want to Work and Live

24. Big demands and high expectations: The Deloitte Millennial Survey

25. Millennial life: How young adulthood today compares with prior generations

26. Who Invented the Computer?

27. Alan Turing Biography: Computer Pioneer, Gay Icon

28. 3 ways digital video has upended shopping as we know it

29. YouTube is investing $20M in educational content, creators

52. Micro learning: advance or fantasy?

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