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  • Writer's pictureTraci Pate

Buzzword Breakdown: Microlearning

It’s no secret that we have no love for buzzwords. The varying definitions of the different industry terms is a constant source of confusion. So here’s the first in a new series we have dubbed: L&D Buzzword Breakdown.


Microlearning has a lot of different definitions and descriptions. Here are the features people generally agree on:

  • “Relatively” short units of content

  • Used to explain one skill or concept at a time

  • A complete and immediately useful lesson

Here is where the descriptions may differ slightly:

Length | Under 3 minutes, or 5 minutes, or 10 minutes

Purpose | To stand alone, or exist as a small part of a larger unit of content

Access | Deployed to learners over time, or available for learners in moments of need


Our take on this topic:

Microlearning is an important tool to have in the toolbox, but it’s not appropriate for every project. Before you decide to use this as your main strategy, be sure that your content makes sense when it’s broken down into smaller units. And if you’re creating a set of microlearning experiences, plan the full set at a high level to create a cohesive and organized experience instead of creating each item in a silo. Consider the user experience and how easy it will be for them to access all the different assets.

Some content may need to be delivered in more than three/five/ten minute increments for people to fully understand the context. If this is the case, there is no shame in acknowledging that microlearning isn’t a great fit. If you like the idea of shorter units of content you can still get the benefits of microlearning by subdividing your content into the shortest possible units for each topic and presenting the units together. This is the approach of platforms like Udemy, Skillshare, and Linkedin Learning, to name a few. Each course is made up of groups of short videos that cover one subtopic or skill. The videos can stand alone, but when presented together as a whole learners can see each topic and how all the parts form the whole. They can get the full course experience or simply navigate to one specific topic in their moment of need.

A Cautionary Tale:

We have been on projects designed to combine various pieces of microlearning into a cohesive learning experience. In these cases, microlearning didn’t work as intended because there wasn’t a way for learners to see how all the pieces came together. It’s not that the topics weren’t appropriate, it’s just that having a segmented experience with no visibility into the larger context didn’t create a complete picture for learners. In addition, having various pieces of content in different formats and places wasn’t the best user experience.

Other Uses:

If you determine that microlearning isn’t a great fit for your main strategy, it might be a useful way to send out supplemental content after a learner completes a longer course or workshop. It can be the perfect way to remind learners of skills they just practiced or offer additional support for how to integrate the skills into their day-to-day work.

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