7 steps to getting started with microlearning

Microlearning is not difficult. I’m not saying that it won’t require some solid work to introduce microlearning in your organization. But microlearning principles are just really simple to understand. Take a look at our microlearning definition:

Microlearning is an approach to training that delivers content in short, focused bites. To be effective, microlearning must fit naturally into the daily workflow, engage employees in voluntary participation, be based in brain science (how people actually learn), adapt continually to ingrain the knowledge employees need to be successful, and ultimately drive behaviors that impact specific business results.

Who could argue against these principles? They’re not just common sense—they’re also proven to work!

So, if microlearning is so easy to understand, why isn’t everyone doing it? There are plenty of possible reasons. But, in my experience, there’s typically one BIG barrier in the way when you want to change the way you train employees: school.

Breaking the school stereotype

Most people went to school when they were younger. They now have a vision for how learning should work embedded in their minds. It should look like school, where there is a dedicated place and time to learn.

  • A teacher tells you information.
  • You study.
  • You take a test.
  • You’re done.

If they’ve been out of school and in the working world for a while, their professional training has probably looked just like school too. So when they go looking for new training, they expect it to look like everything they’ve ever experienced when it comes to learning. Microlearning doesn’t look like school. Microlearning matches how people REALLY learn at work.

To get started with microlearning, you first have to overcome the preconceived notions your stakeholders and employees have about learning. Here are the 7 simple steps you should use to begin your organization’s microlearning transformation.

1 – Ask the BIG question

“How does our work align with the priorities of the business?” This one question can kickstart your transformation by highlighting the poor connection between your training efforts and the needs of the business. It also reinforces the reason why people in your organization may not value training the way you think they should. Ask this question of your peers and managers. If they struggle to establish the connection between the training you offer and the needs of the business, you have a clear reason to introduce microlearning into the conversation.

2 – Get past the noise

Microlearning is VERY popular. It’s also VERY misunderstood. Too many people focus on the idea of shorter content and fail to understand real microlearning principles, including those referenced in our definition. Help your peers and stakeholders get past this noise by sharing resources and engaging in discussions focused on proven principles, not marketing buzz.

3 – Move closer to your audience

“Fit naturally into the daily workflow” is a key microlearning principle. If you hope to shift learning from something that’s done in a classroom once in a while to a daily part of the work experience, you first have to understand what the everyday experience looks like for your employees. Go into the operation. Watch how people use their time. Note the tools and resources they use to do their jobs. Look for the right places and times to introduce learning opportunities. This information will be critical as you build your microlearning strategy.

4 – Apply a results-first approach

How do you create training that impacts a specific business result? You have to start with the result and work backwards to the appropriate solution.

Diagram of Axonify's results-first approach to training content

Before you make a decision on what to build, clarify the desired result. Then, work backwards to identify the required behaviors (what people have to do) and foundational knowledge (what people have to know) to achieve that result. Then, build the right solution that can enable the knowledge, drive the behavior and impact the business result.

5 – Evaluate your tools

To move your training offerings closer to the workflow, you have to consider how you build and deliver content. What tools are you using today, and can they support your shift towards microlearning? Can employees access content from your learning platform(s) when and where they do their jobs? If not, you should consider exploring new tools that are designed specifically for microlearning.

6 – Adopt a “yes, and” mentality

Your stakeholders will not change their minds overnight. They still believe learning looks like school, and they’ll expect the same old courses they’re used to when it’s time for new training. As you begin to introduce microlearning, you should also adopt a “yes, and” influencing approach. Rather than just arguing that a new way is better, provide your stakeholders with alternatives. In early days, develop the familiar solution AND new elements that apply microlearning principles. Measure the impact of these blended solutions and demonstrate the value of microlearning to help change their minds.

7 – Find the right partners

You don’t have to do this alone. There are a growing number of organizations out there that have implemented microlearning. Solution providers (including Axonify) specialize in applying microlearning principles. Don’t recreate the wheel. Learn from the successes (and failures) of others. Invite trusted partners to help you and your stakeholders determine the best ways to introduce microlearning in your organization. You will get started faster and save time, effort and resources along the way.

Microlearning isn’t difficult, but it may represent a considerable shift from your current training approach. Don’t look at microlearning as a rip-and-replace strategy. Rather, it’s an evolution that will introduce some new ideas while strengthening the good stuff that you’re already doing. Use these 7 steps to begin your evolution. These early steps are tactics you can apply right now to start improving your ability to deliver value to your business and your employees.



JD is one of the most prolific authors and speakers in workplace learning today. His practical approach integrates science, technology, storytelling and pure common sense to enable employees, improve performance and drive business results. For 20 years, JD has executed strategies for global organizations, including The Walt Disney Company.

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