Microlearning Design Model – 8 steps to success

Microlearning through a TV and movie lens: join us as we take you through 8 key aspects of microlearning, and the benefits of each. Make your digital learning micro – using these aspects as guidelines – and you’ll be well on your way to L&D success!

Learning and leisure viewing: close relatives

In the last week, which have you watched more – movies or TV series? A ninety minute
sit-a-thon or a nice, squat hour squeezed in before bedtime?

And what was the last lesson you learned really well, and how did you learn it? Think specifics here; we’re not talking about your last module or semester in the education system. No – the last new thing you learned – whether that was an everyday skill or some new information. Like finally figuring out how to use that weird programme on your washing machine. Or finding out who won the Oscar this year for Best Foreign Language Film…

And how did you learn that? Odds are it was through one short, snappy event that targeted that information only – maybe a YouTube video about that washing machine cycle, or a newspaper app’s handy list of this year’s Oscar winners.

In either case, two key aspects of how you did this learning – and how you did your leisure viewing – were convenience and focus.

True to our human condition, we like life to suit us, to fit our wants and needs, as much as possible. And that’s the way workplace learning is going, too – something that we here at Logicearth see more and more frequently these days. Our clients want digital learning solutions that tick the convenience and focus boxes; learning experiences that are easy to deploy, easy to use and efficient for everybody – learners, the L&D department, and the organisation as a whole.

We see the real need for regular, episodic learning rather than training marathons. But we don’t buy into the sensationalist headlines shouting about reduced attention spans. People nowadays are not all rapidly morphing into goldfish-brained organisms who can’t cope with focusing their minds on anything for longer than eight seconds. Actually, it turns out that even poor old goldfish have been hard done by when it comes to the popular (mis)take on neuroscience. They’ve been tangled up in a myth about short attention spans, when in reality, there’s no evidence that they suffer such a deficit. 


Step 1: In your own time…

No; it’s about that focus again – and the convenience. In many situations, the best learning solutions are microlearning ones: short, single-outcome, focused learning experiences that learners can do when and where suits them. Okay, so maybe not last thing at night,
Netflix-style, after the kids are in bed, while you’re curled up on the sofa with a loved one/pet/hot drink (or, better still, all three). More like during those in-between times in life that you don’t want to see wasted, like while you’re on the train or bus into work, or waiting for an appointment at the doctor’s, where the hands on the clock move grindingly slowly.

It makes sense for employers to choose a learning mode that suits their learners’ lifestyles – learning that can wrap around work, rather than interrupt it in one big, cumbersome lump. If learners can access targeted resources – concise, to-the-point content – at a time that suits them, they’re more likely to retain the information better. As well as this, because they’ll often access the learning just when they need it, applying it soon afterwards in their actual work, this ‘just-in-time’ approach impacts their work performance positively – and quickly. All of this means your learners might actually even enjoy their workplace learning – and get greater job satisfaction. And as Patti Shank points out, the ripple effect stretches even beyond the confines of the office; used wisely, microlearning promotes a better work–life balance.

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Step 2: Not just ‘Cut!’

But it’s a real mistake to think microlearning is merely simplifying, or ‘chunking up’, content. Is Game of Thrones one enormous movie sliced into parts? Far from it! It’s more like a series of mini movies, with each episode having its own story arc – and, with some series, even their own ‘visual arc’ – a distinctive style for each episode, maybe thanks to a different director each time. Similarly, microlearning is all about ‘resources, not courses’.

Microlearning research would suggest that a carefully developed model is worthwhile. The modern learner values the opportunity to engage with a variety of formats: short videos, animations, conversations, interactive infographics, quizzes, games, diagrams, scenarios, demos, user-generated knowledge shares. Try this quickfire quiz we made to make Security Awareness training more engaging:

Bite sized assets and interactions, that sit on any platform and work beautifully for mobile learning, will encourage the high engagement level long sought after by L&D. We have lots of ideas and suggestions for keeping each short resource fresh: different types of microlearning, and part of a vibrant portfolio that’s designed to suit the content and keep learners interested at every stage of their learning. As we say in our Complete Guide to eLearning and the LMS, a good microlearning programme delivers a series of training interventions using a variety of appropriate tools: not just a hacksaw.


Step 3: Spotlight is best

Microlearning isn’t one monster-long training course parcelled up. Instead of the big picture, think little pixel. At its best, a microlearning resource is zoomed in on a single learning outcome – learning one new skill, or one new piece of knowledge – and, like your Game of Thrones episode, it keeps you engrossed, and leaves you refreshed and knowing something new. Okay, so it can’t promise heart-stopping swashbuckling or gore galore (although we have been known to compose songs for clients!) … but nonetheless, the comparison holds. Learners enjoy the satisfaction of achieving something concrete in a matter of minutes – three to five, in the most effective microlearning resources – and without a big disruption to their usual work or life routine.

For L&D, meanwhile, spotlighting individual learning ‘nuggets’ in this way means that they’re structuring their content organically, systematically, curating it carefully to focus on the truly important material, and using only relevant and helpful contextual content. Working alongside the best content developers, L&D find themselves following molecular biologist John Medina’s Brain Rules: ‘Meaning before details’. L&D can showcase the quality of their learning strategies and content more than ever before.

Step 4: Efficiency is the showrunner

Just like straight-to-streaming-TV means our favourite shows can cut out the middleman of TV networks, microlearning allows L&D departments to save time, money and effort by doing away with expensive trainers’ fees and facility costs. L&D have more control over the development of the training, and when and how they roll it out.

Working with expert content developers, L&D and their subject matter experts enjoy all the advantages of an agile development process. It means closer collaboration with the learning experience designers and digital designers, so L&D get to spend more time demonstrating the quality of their learning content.

It also means a faster response to business challenges. So you’ve just heard that your new product rollout has been brought forward by six months? No problem! You can get your staff up to speed on that with a custom-designed resource focussed on all they need to know ahead of the release. Knowledge gaps don’t have to mean panic stations!


Step 5: Data behind the lens

Your online TV viewing is, more than ever, yours; Netflix, Amazon Prime and so many others use data analytics on user trends to customise their recommendations to you and provide you with just the type of programming and movies that you relish. The recommendation system influences about 80% of the content streamed on Netflix.

Verify graphic
Top-notch microlearning – like our own Verify platform – works on the same premise: a tailored fit, rather than one-size-fits-all. Verify collates data on learners’ accuracy, speed and confidence when they respond to questions on the learning content.

The system then harnesses an algorithm to this data, creating an adaptive learning programme for each individual learner, delivering – essentially ‘streaming’ – content to them on a spaced practice schedule, in a method proven to maximise their retention of what they learn (Read our LXDs’ take on spaces repetition). The content is always pitched at the learners’ current ability level, and it takes them all the way to their ‘Mastery Goal’ – the very final episode that they’re dying to reach!

Step 6: Choose your audience

Just as streaming platforms are now vying with TV networks as the ideal launchpad for new series, microlearning platforms allow L&D the flexibility of targeting multiple types of audience. Scaling up a piece of training from a target audience of 30 learners to 300 is no longer an issue; the short, quirky animation showing you how to use the newest piece of software at work can be as easily deployed to big numbers as to small. Scaling up doesn’t equate to ramping up effort. This flexibility can revolutionise the quality of workplace learning. Small is beautiful, yes – but so is lots of small!


Step 7: Episode = reduced cognitive load

The episode is the new abode of our TV consumption, so why shouldn’t our working life follow suit? Microlearning isn’t a symptom of a hyper-speed culture that inevitably results in a ‘dumbing down’. Quite the opposite, in fact. It’s really about tapping into the enormous capacity of our ability to focus on one thing only.

As psychologist Dr Maureen Gaffney points out in her bestselling book Flourishing, ‘[t]he power of full, undivided and devoted attention can, and often does, move mountains’.

Microlearning takes us from the territory of the ‘mind-full’ to the ‘mindful’: away from crushing, yawn-inducing cognitive overload, and towards the clarity of focus. Get the right learning consultants and content development team at your side, and you’ll soon find yourself transforming your learning content into a dynamic, really useful suite of microlearning resources. With these experts guiding the portfolio’s organising narrative – its very own story arc – your learners will soon be in ‘the flow’ in more ways than one. They’ll be not just in their own personalised learning stream – a perfect fit for them – but also in something like that ‘flow’ state that psychologists call ‘vital engagement’: happy absorption in the one task at hand.

Step 8: Kaleidoscope your learning

As TV screenwriters and producers have come to realise the huge appeal of streaming series, they’ve started to use cinematographers more frequently, applying their expertise from the movie industry to TV drama. (This was already becoming clear in 2017, when the Emmys’ governing body, the Television Academy, decided to split its cinematography awards across two categories – one-hour series and half-hour series.) Microlearning is flexible in a similar way; it can share TV series’ blended nature.

Each microlearning resource lends itself not only to independent use, as a standalone resource, but also as part of a blended learning programme that combines the best of instructor-led training and digital learning. You once had an hour-long SCORM course, plodding through page after page of mind-numbing ‘Click Next’ interactions. Now you find a combination of an introductory animation, a virtual classroom session, a comic strip-style scenario, interactive infographics, a video with interrupting questions, and a quiz with a wide variety of question formats. Pixels are portable!

So, like Terry Pratchett’s camera-operating imps, it’s the little pixels that are the heroes in the big picture of digital learning. What are you waiting for? Your audience of learners awaits; all you need now is the perfect partner for your production!

Lights – camera – action!

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Adams, Tim. ‘Secrets of the TV writers’ room: inside Narcos, Transparent and Silicon Valley’. https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2017/sep/23/secrets-of-the-tv-writers-rooms-tv-narcos-silicon-valley-transparent Accessed 14 March 2019.

Gaffney, Maureen. Flourishing: How to achieve a deeper sense of well-being, meaning and purpose – even when facing adversity. Dublin: Penguin Ireland, 2011.

Medina, John. Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School. Seattle: Pear Press, 2014.

Nevins, Jake. ‘Aesthetic excellence: how cinematography transformed TV’. https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2018/mar/01/tv-that-doesnt-look-like-tv-how-cinematography-relit-the-small-screen Accessed 14 March 2019.

Pratchett, Terry. The Colour of Magic. London: Corgi, 2012.

Pratchett, Terry. Moving Pictures. London: Corgi, 2012.

Shank, Patti. ‘Microlearning, Macrolearning. What Does Research Tell Us?’ https://elearningindustry.com/microlearning-macrolearning-research-tell-us Accessed 15 March 2019.

Winograd, David. ‘Ways Microlearning Increases Attention And Retention’. https://elearningindustry.com/microlearning-increases-attention-retention-ways Accessed 14 March 2019.