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Microlearning: The Pathway to Effective Corporate Training

by Harwant Khush, Ph.D., Research Consultant, Tero International

Organizations and corporations constantly seek ways to enhance employee performance and productivity in the fast-paced business environment. At present, one such approach gaining popularity is microlearning. Millennials and Gen Z employees prefer it because it aligns with their values and expertise. Employers also find microlearning techniques effective for keeping employees engaged, informed, and proficient while constantly inspiring their professional growth.

This article examines microlearning, its definition, the impact of societal and technological factors on its popularity, implementation in corporate training, limitations, and future potential.

The Origin and Growth of Microlearning

Microlearning has been a recent phenomenon. However, its origin can be traced to pre-historic times when brief and targeted knowledge was passed orally from one generation to the next. This trend has continued with the advancement of written languages. But, microlearning's hyperbolic growth and popularity are the phenomenon of the 20th century. The prime catalyst for its growth was the creation of the World Wide Web (WWW) and its accessibility by the internet. The WWW opened up opportunities to learn and access information anytime and from any place. According to Growth Engineering:

"Microlearning started its journey to eLearning stardom with the domestic use of the internet in the mid-1990s. The internet revolutionised the way the world was able to learn. Suddenly we could stream our lessons online or upload learning modules in the space of an afternoon."

The second significant boost to microlearning came with the release of smartphones and digital tablets in the early 2000s with their short application programs abbreviated to "apps." These apps made information accessible, convenient, easy to use, and fun to learn. In addition, it led the younger mobile learners to access information while sitting in coffee shops, walking around, when and wherever they needed it. Consequently, business establishments also realized its importance and started putting their content and workshops online. According to Wikipedia, companies now focus more on their online content, webinars, and virtual workshops for training.

Along with the influence of technological devices, social and psychological factors have also contributed to the popularity of microlearning. For instance, it is believed that millennials and Gen Z have shorter attention spans and prefer to receive information quickly, concisely, and on demand. Microsoft Corp. confirmed this phenomenon and discovered that the younger generation's attention span has declined from 12 seconds in 2000 to eight seconds in 2015, which is now shorter than that of a goldfish. Furthermore, the trend toward fast-paced and focused learning is expected to continue. Thus, it is essential to comprehend the concept of microlearning and its potential to be an effective and user-friendly training tool.

What is Microlearning?

"A moment's insight is sometimes worth a life's experience." ---Oliver Wendell Holmes

Microlearning delivers targeted, brief, easy-to-learn content on a specific skill or idea in concise and distinct segments within a short time. The word "microlearning" is derived from the Greek word "Micro," meaning small (Wikipedia). However, the term MicroLearning was coined in 2003 by Research Studios Austria to describe "learning in small steps", emphasizing the importance of keeping time and content brief for effective results.

Microlearning is also a vital component of e-learning, but these are not the same. E-learning is a broader online learning format, such as online courses, webinars, etc. But microlearning primarily refers to a method that delivers short, focused content in two to ten minutes. Delivery is usually through digital devices, but it can also be in-person. Digital strategies may include mobile apps, videos, infographics, and interactive games, while in-person methods may include flashcards, quick quizzes, and interactive workshops.

Microlearning has numerous variations, some known as Nano-learning, Bite-sized learning, Incremental learning, Modular learning, Chunked learning, Digital snacking, and On-demand learning. These learning types have subtle differences, but their overall goals are similar—for instance, the time for nano-learning is much shorter than for microlearning. (nano-learning and micro-learning) . The Digital Learning Institute describes it as follows:

"Microlearning is a learning design trend that entails breaking down a concept or idea into its most fundamental parts within a course/module or a programme. These learning experiences tend to be very focused, with many short learning nuggets which are usually around 2-8 minutes long resulting in very specific learning outcomes."

TechTarget describes it "microlearning is an educational strategy that breaks complex topics down into short-form stand-alone units of study that can be viewed as many times as necessary, whenever and wherever the learner has the need."

Therefore, microlearning can be defined as brief, focused on a specific objective, and skill-based content accessible at any time and place learners require it.

Incorporating Microlearning in Training Programs

"[Employees] expect learning to be available everywhere and at any time, across a broad range of modalities and content, within the flow of their day-to-day work." ---John Hiroka

Gone are traditional training days where workers are brought together for lengthy training programs that last for days or weeks. Today's employees expect training that fits their lifestyle and addresses specific questions. Microlearning is an ideal solution to meet these changing demands. Employers must therefore create mobile-friendly training modules that are easily accessible. The eLogic Learning Company guides how to implement effective training programs.

Just-In-Time Learning

Training modules should focus on a specific skill or topic delivered in concise, bite-sized chunks. The process should be like how individuals search the internet for "How to" or "How do I" questions. Employers can prepare training modules with the necessary knowledge, information, and step-by-step guidance to apply their learning.

Mobile Learning

Mobile learning delivered through apps on smartphones and tablets is crucial for mobile learners and workers who are always on the go. These apps allow employees to access and progress through learning material independently without needing additional support. The eLogic Learning Company's research results support the popularity of these devices for delivering information, such as:

Whenever-You-Can Learning

"Shorter may be better when it comes to executing workforce training." —HRO TODAY

On average, individuals take 5 to 10 seconds to decide whether to stay engaged with a topic. According to Deloitte's Research on the modern learner, "an average employee can only devote 1 percent of their work week to professional development. In a 40-hour work week, that's only 24 minutes a week or 4.8 minutes a day." This short attention span emphasizes the importance of utilizing every minute effectively in professional development.

Continuous Learning

Effective training requires continuity, regularity, and repetition. Unfortunately, Research shows that people tend to quickly forget a significant amount of information, with 50% forgotten within an hour, 70% forgotten within 24 hours, and 90% forgotten within a week. To remedy this, delivering microlearning updated training frequently through apps can help ensure knowledge retention and application.

Suitable for Hard Skills

Microlearning training is best suited for hard skills or job-related competencies. It involves learning about a specific topic or issue related to work situations.

These are examples of when and how microlearning training can be prepared and conducted, but it is not a comprehensive list. Both employees and employers benefit from microlearning; employees appreciate the convenience of acquiring new skills, while employers value the ability to provide relevant and targeted information.

Theories and Principles of Microlearning Training

The popularity of microlearning training can be attributed to its foundation in behavioral and psychological principles and learning theories. Some of these are:

Ebbinghaus' Forgetting Curve, the foundation for microlearning, demonstrates that learners tend to forget 90% of new information within 30 days without reinforcement. Microlearning training overcomes this by presenting material at regular intervals.

The Cognitive Load Theory (CLT) states that learners have a limited capacity for processing information at once. By breaking down content into smaller units, microlearning makes it easier for learners to manage the information, retain it, and avoid being overwhelmed.

The Spaced Repetition Principle also referred to as the spacing effect, suggests that regularly reviewing information at spaced intervals enhances retention and recall in learners. In behavioral psychology, it is known as "interval reinforcement."

Immediate feedback is a fundamental aspect of microlearning, as it allows learners to quickly receive feedback on their performance and identify areas for improvement and areas that need more attention.

Microlearning is also widely regarded as active learning, involving learners through interactive quizzes and exercises, promoting active processing and retention of information.

Microlearning emphasizes intrinsic motivation. Learners are effective and productive when engaged in activities because they immensely enjoy them.

Microlearning is data-driven and quantifiable, allowing learners to easily track their pre- and post-learning progress and measure their results.

Limitations of Microlearning Training

The popularity of microlearning training has increased due to the widespread use of technology, appealing to tech-savvy millennials and Gen Z. However, it has limitations:

Future of Microlearning Training

"Microlearning is the Future of Professional Development." Stephen Baer, Forbes Councils Member.

The future of microlearning in employee training will grow and evolve with advancing technology and the demand for flexible work. In addition, artificial intelligence (AI) will make learning more accessible and personalized through chatbots and virtual assistants.

Integrating mobile devices, virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and AI-powered personalization will improve training programs' reach and effectiveness.

However, despite its potential, a balanced approach, including a combination of microlearning with other training methods, is recommended to ensure knowledge and skills development.


In the contemporary era, microlearning has emerged as a popular and practical approach to corporate training, offering employees flexible but targeted knowledge and skills. With the increasing use of technology and the need for quick and accessible learning solutions, microlearning is well-suited to meet the demands of today's fast-paced work environment.

Nevertheless, it is essential to understand its limitations and to find the right balance with other forms of learning for training. However, the future of microlearning in corporate training holds great potential. Corporations that plan and invest in its implementation can benefit from improved employee performance, engagement, and development. Thus, microlearning can be valuable in corporate training if used effectively and strategically.

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