Microlearning: Why and How to Design Courses Consumed with Ease

What does Microlearning mean?

Does microlearning mean that you divide the learning content into small chunks and allow users to consume each in less time? Perhaps in literal sense but let us take a scenario –

You want to teach Design Thinking Process to your employees. It has 5 steps. You divide them into smaller chunks and cover only one step in one mini-lesson. And it looks like:

Step 1 of Design Thinking

Empathize: Have an empathetic approach when trying to solve a problem and try to understand the environment in which a user operates. Put aside the assumptions you have about the world and about users but think from their perspective. Aim of this step is to develop a good understanding of your users.

Easy to consume as it is quick to read and understand but what after you read this? Has any learning happened or did you just got an information byte that you do not know what to do with.

Have empathy! Ok, how will it help? how to have it? any examples?

Micro-learning is not about just dividing information you have into chunks but is is about creating smaller packages for learning that are in themselves complete. If a learner cannot move ahead with the learning without going to the next lesson, the lesson has not really done a job.

But will that not mean that the length of the lesson will increase? Perhaps it will or maybe not. Your lesson can take just one graphic or a full carousel, a few clicks on single screen or a few slides in a sequence, a small reel or a 2-3 mins video.

A small lesson from fiction writing that teaches you what are key characters in a story and the role they play in the life of the main protagonist with examples – How small or big do you think this lesson would be? Can you make a video? or a smaller reel? a few slides or just one graphic?

What makes a complete unit for Microlearning?

A microlearning unit usually contains a minimum of four key elements – New information, relevance, application and challenges. While the above example might not have all of them because it is more of a marketing creative than an eLearning course but while designing a microlearning unit, you have to take care of these elements.

1. New information: A learner who already has less time to learn doesn’t need you to beat around the bush or spend long time building a story. Get to the point straight and provide the information that they do not already know and can help them develop personally or professionally. The learners might already have some knowledge and background over which you have to build your course.

For instance, I might already know that two hemispheres of my brain work differently – one is analytical and another creative but which part of the brain exactly provide creativity and how it flows could be something I would be interested in finding out.

Imagine a course you developed for a writer to upgrade her skills. And here is how you start with your module –

Writing is an art that requires creativity in thoughts.

Assuming I am that writer exploring your course.

My response would be: I already know that!

Try again…

Writing is an art that requires creativity both in thoughts and in presentation.

My response: Still no value-add, what do I not know?

Try again…

Writing is an art that not just requires creativity in thoughts and presentation but also in understanding how a reader consumes and relates with every word or sentence that you write – How the words create impact and their flow in sentences enhance it?

My response: Now, you are making some sense. I would like to know more about the psychological impact of words and sentences on readers.

2. Relevance – Not just the concept but you also have to inform or at least remind the learner why the presented information should matter to her.

The module content continues…

This understanding will help you engage your readers better. Isn’t that what every writer wants?

My response: Of course, it is! I want it too!

3. Application – The information presented and relevance revealed but how will that information exactly help? As a learner, what action am I supposed to take to make use of that? How will it help me grow? The learner needs to be given the usage guidance. You might present your theories, explanations, models, and methods here.

Let us take forward the earlier example..

To understand how your readers would connect with your writing, give 2 paragraphs to one potential reader to read and after he is done, ask for feedback. Ask them to answer the following questions –

  • Which words do you remember from the paragraphs?

  • What is the key message you could take home?

  • What do you expect would come next?

  • What questions do you have that you would like me to answer in the coming text?

4. Challenges – No matter how simple does your method sound, the first time learner will always have some areas of struggle. For even a little complex approach like the one offered in the example, you also need to discuss the potential challenges and how to overcome them.

Let us continue with our example…

It might not be possible for you to find a potential reader every time you want to put down a piece. So, what can we do?

What if you pick a friend and share your thoughts even before writing to understand the reader?

If not for every article, can you do it for a few – Take them as samples?

In case, you have a client sitting in between the reader and you, try sending an outline to your client to confirm if you are moving in the right direction. Your client will most probably understand how their regular customers engage and will be able to guide you with a concrete feedback.

For easy understanding, I have only discussed one example in the above text. However, in a real microlearning course, you might discuss more depending on your topic and learners.

Why should you go for Microlearning?


Digitally connected world of today has unlimited information, all bombarding from everywhere. Not just consumers but even learners have so many places to consume learning bytes from.

While on one side, you have your organizational LMSs to guide you with different learning pathways, there are external self-paced programs on eLearning portals to give you more. Your company might be conducting a Virtual Instructor-Led training program, outside it also you will find several certification programs that offer live training from experts. You can attend a class to learn or simply access a kit of eBooks to learn from.

You have so much to learn and you are interested in learning too but the time you have is limited so which channel should you choose to upgrade yourself?

A classroom might create boredom if teacher is traditional. A book will even make you sleep if its heavy. Your company might make some workshops compulsory to attend but your lack of interest doesn’t makes the content useless for you. You do not have long hours but the live program demands that. You are at home with kids screaming and can’t hear videos, how will you listen to the self-paced lecture. You only get time for yourself during driving, how can you read while doing that?

Additionally, if the subject itself is complex, how to deal with the cognitive load. Can someone please simplify it by breaking down into smaller pieces that are easy to grab? And don’t forget the responsibilities and commitments that you are preoccupied with while trying to learn –

Oh! I have to submit this presentation tonight! I can’t watch this now.

I have to reach home early, when will this workshop finish?

Microlearning emerges as a solution because it not just divides the lessons into smaller chunks but also makes individual chunks complete in themselves.

Elements of a Microlearning Course

To develop course, you need objectives to fulfill for learners and along those lines, you develop content and deliver your program in a desired format through a channel popular with your learners. But your job is not complete unless you have evaluated the level of understanding that your learners receive from your content. In the flow of execution, we have four key elements to take care of:

Objectives: What is this course exactly going to accomplish for the learner? Your objective has to be action-oriented and define what your learner would be able to do after consuming a module. For this, take help from Blooms taxonomy that provide you specific action verbs to use with your objectives based on the level of the learner in the learning journey.

Starting with basics? Just trying to inculcate knowledge? In the first stage of knowledge, you can help learners define terms, identify elements, describe components, etc. Next stages are: Understanding, Application, Analysis, Evaluation, and Creation.

Content: Core information you want to give your leaners and activities you want them to do in order to learn how to use the information should be weaved into a content that is easily digestible. At this point, you need to decide what content format would you use to deliver the information. Will it be a video, an infographic, an article, an audio, etc.?

Delivery: You have created content but for it to reach your target learners, you need a delivery channel. Will you deliver it in the form of an online video through your LMS, chat script through your chatbot, creatives through social media, audio through a podcast?

Evaluation: No learning is complete unless the lessons are applied and then judged if they were correctly understood. Typically, for evaluation of learning transfer, you can give a small objective test to your learner at the end of a module such that the selection of response can give you an understanding if the lesson is understood. With this, micro-courses usually have descriptions provided for each responses to help learners understand why their choice is right or not. Articulate provides you great tools to add small evaluation tests and even interactive elements to your microlearning course.

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