Breaking down the 4 common types of microlearning

Microlearning can revolutionize your company training, but there’s more than one type of microlearning to consider. In a general sense, it refers to any short-form content focused on a specific topic or outcome—as opposed to a full course that includes a variety of topics. But microlearning can also be broken down into individual categories that are appropriate in different situations.

When is microlearning appropriate?

Microlearning is effective for both formal and informal training.

Formal training is any training that’s structured in nature. It may include instructor-led training and/or digital training, but the material is carefully selected and curated for the trainee in the hopes of promoting specific skills or knowledge. The traditional eLearning format relies on formal training.

Informal training isn’t based on a formalized curriculum. The trainee may choose the materials themselves in the hopes of advancing their skillset, and the material is accessed entirely at the individual’s leisure. In some cases, informal training can supplement formal training.

Microlearning lends itself to informal training because the material is often absorbed casually during a few minutes of downtime. For instance, a person can learn the Spanish days of the week while waiting in line at the DMV or complete the first lesson of a coding course while sitting on the bus.

But given that there are so many advantages to microlearning, it’s also being incorporated more and more into formalized training environments. Employers are realizing that short, targeted lessons aren’t just effective for teaching people how to ask for directions in French. They also allow companies to break down and tackle complex topics over time as a more sustainable, embedded way to learn. In other words, you can’t expect a new employee to master your point-of-sale system overnight. But if you break down the training concepts into short lessons and deliver them in order of urgency, you can gradually instill a lot of important information in a very effective way.

Microlearning is being used in workplaces for all aspects of company training, and when it’s applied effectively, it can help to promote employee engagement, increase sales, reduce safety incidents and minimize turnover. That’s because microlearning, when done correctly, is inherently engaging and helps learners to more effectively process information from short-term to long-term memory. This study also reinforces the importance of continuous learning. It’s not that you learn and sustain knowledge just because content is short. It’s because you continuously refresh this knowledge and focus on the areas that matter most over time.

In order for microlearning to be effective, employers have to be smart about it. It’s not just about cutting lessons into smaller chunks. When using it for formal and informal training, you need to make it engaging, adapt it to the employee and choose the most effective type of microlearning for every occasion. The same technique won’t be effective for every learning interaction.

4 popular types of micro-content

There is no “best” type of micro-content. To promote an effective microlearning experience, you should incorporate a variety of different micro-content types into your training program. The following are primary examples.

1. Videos

Video content may include webinars, tutorials, whiteboard animations, interactive video-based learning, recorded lectures and how-to demonstrations. Videos have long been integral to the learning experience—just consider the millions of YouTube videos that cover everything from “What is string theory?” to “How to replace a thermostat in a Ford Mustang.” If you want to leverage videos for microlearning, the key is to keep them short—preferably no more than 3 to 5 minutes—and free of fluff.

When it’s appropriate: Video works especially well for focused training that requires visual context. For example, if you want to train sales associates on how to effectively communicate non-verbally with customers, it helps if trainees can actually see the nonverbal communication in action—complete with body language and gestures.

2. Question-based learning

More and more microlearning tools are using questions to guide the entire training experience (think Duolingo, for instance). Questions are the basis of Axonify’s microlearning/reinforcement approach. Though questions are usually considered an assessment tool, we position them as a learning tool to help people identify knowledge gaps, apply what they know and retain information through repetition.

When it’s appropriate: Questions naturally lend themselves to the LMS experience. If your team is learning on the go (such as on a digital device), you can use short, targeted questions to keep them engaged.

3. Infographics

An infographic is a digital image that illustrates information in a clear, organized way. For example, if you want to promote a safe and injury-free workplace, you can post an infographic in an employee work area as a reminder of how to handle a safety process, such as cleaning up a spill or working on a ladder.

When it’s appropriate: These performance support tools are effective for presenting valuable, succinct information that can be revisited at a glance whenever it’s needed. Your employees might not remember all of the workplace safety protocols. But if you outline those protocols on a handy infographic, employees can constantly review that information as needed so that it becomes ingrained.

4. Short text materials

Sometimes you’ll need text materials to supplement your main training lessons. For instance, you might rely on standard PDFs, interactive PDFs, ebooks, newsletters and similar documents from time to time. Just bear in mind that the average adult reads about 300 words per minute—often less for technical materials. So if you want to keep your lessons between 3 and 5 minutes, you’ll need to keep this factor in mind.

When it’s appropriate: Short text materials work well when you want to provide supplemental training outside of the main training program (like if you send a weekly “Tips & Tricks” email newsletter to your team). They can also be effective when you’re supplementing your own training material with third-party materials. For instance, if you find an excellent article about the tenets of effective customer service, you might save it as a PDF and incorporate it into one of your own related lessons.

Getting the most from the various types of microlearning

Microlearning helps people develop their skills over time and retain critical information in ways that traditional courses cannot. Whether you’re using microlearning as part of an eLearning course or any program intended to teach complex skills, you just have to follow a few best practices:

  • Keep it short
  • Keep it relevant
  • Keep it engaging
  • Mix it up (use a variety of media in each learning path)

By breaking content down to focus on specific topics and skills, you open the door to more content options—including pre-built content like Axonify provides in our Content Marketplace, crowdsourced content from your internal subject matter experts as well as open-source content from reliable online repositories. This is why curation is a critical skill for modern L&D teams.

Incorporate different types of microlearning into your corporate training and eLearning courses, and discover the difference that it can make.

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