Strengths and weaknesses of microlearning

Microlearning has become one of the fastest growing trends in professional learning and development in the past decade. Its popularity is impossible to ignore – but how effective is it? Now that microlearning has become relatively mainstream, we have the experience to assess and evaluate how effective it is.

Let’s explore the main strengths and weaknesses of microlearning.

Defining microlearning

Microlearning is any kind of short training module designed to achieve a specific learning goal. As the name suggests, it transmits small amounts of information that learners can take on in just a few minutes.

Microlearning is always delivered electronically. It uses a range of methods to transmit information:

  • Videos
  • Short text summaries
  • Walkthroughs
  • Audio
  • How-to guides

Brief history of microlearning in the workplace

In a sense, microlearning has always existed. If an employee had a question about how to use a machine or complete a process and asked a co-worker for help, that was essentially a form of microlearning. Similarly, companies have long provided libraries, reference folders and workflow charts to help people learn how to complete processes. In fact, the concept itself has existed since the 1960s.

However, the rise of office computing and the internet has supercharged microlearning as a concept:

  • Staff intranets were the first microlearning hubs, where training materials would be stored in SharePoint or a similar document hub
  • We then saw the emergence of online learning platforms – websites like Lynda (now owned by LinkedIn), Coursera and similar sites
  • Learning Management Systems (LMS) also exploded over the course of the past decade, providing a true microlearning experience with lots of short company courses, videos and guides

Tens of thousands of organizations around the world have used some form of microlearning in recent years. So, how effective is this approach?

Strengths of microlearning

Microlearning offers many benefits. Here are some of its key advantages:

  1. Tackles the ‘forgetting curve’

The forgetting curve refers to the fact that most people forget a significant proportion of what they learn within minutes of receiving the information. People often remember less than 30% of training after just 24 hours.

Microlearning addresses this issue by providing training in small, frequent nuggets so people can quickly apply what they have learned. At the same time, forgetting information is not so important if it would only take 5 minutes to learn it again. This is much better than someone forgetting a whole afternoon of classroom training and needing to retake the course in 6 months’ time!

  1. Easy to update

If you are creating learning for cloud-based business technology, that software is continually being updated. Platforms like Microsoft 365 receive weekly updates, for instance. A microlearning tool is easy to update so users know how to make use of any changes in the system. By contrast, offering in-person training sessions on such a topic would be time-consuming and damage productivity.

  1. Flexible

A microlearning system lets people learn whenever they want. If they have a spare 30 minutes, they can log into your LMS and brush up on any skills they would like to improve.

Weaknesses of microlearning

Microlearning is a big improvement on traditional classroom style training. Nevertheless, it still has major drawbacks that cannot be ignored:

  1. Microlearning happens out of context

Microlearning is certainly better than a classroom scenario. However, the learning still happens out of context. This means the user is still effectively learning about how to do something theoretically, rather than practically. As a consequence, there’s a high chance they will forget that information and need to return to the LMS later to study the same thing again. This is therefore inefficient and frustrating for staff.

  1. Not realistic

Microlearning with an LMS requires the learner to actively seek out information when they have free time. This self-directed approach to learning puts the responsibility on employees to manage their own learning. That’s fine in theory, but is it realistic? If you had a spare 15 minutes in the middle of a busy day, would you really do some self-directed learning in your LMS, or would you spend a few moments chatting with a coworker at the water cooler?

  1. Wrong time, wrong place

Microlearning happens at the wrong time, in the wrong place. The fact is that most people want to learn how to use tools at the moment of need, in the flow of work. If they are stuck on how to complete a process, that is the time they need to learn. And that is the problem – microlearning does not deliver information when it is actually needed.

We need to put microlearning in context

Microlearning is clearly a major advance in enterprise training, and brings serious benefits. However, the way it is currently delivered, through an LMS or intranet, is simply not enough. Instead, microlearning should be delivered in context. We need to take those videos, walkthroughs, images and guides and place them around company systems, so employees receive training at the moment of need.

To learn more about contextual microlearning, dive into our blogs.

Related Posts