What comes to mind when you hear the term ‘microlearning’?

a) ‘I guess that’s on the top 10 trends list again’
b) ‘Well that sounds like a small course to me.’
c) ‘What’s that?’

What is microlearning? 

Microlearning is up there in the top 10 on many eLearning trends lists again, including our own elearning trends for 2020 article. It’s here to stay and for good reason. You’ll not be surprised at the fact that, yes, microlearning is a small piece or ‘nugget’ of eLearning content. But is it goodbye to hours of traditional computer-based courses?

There’s a reason why there’s been a lot of ‘buzz’ surrounding microlearning. There is more to it than just ‘short courses’—although it’s no secret that as humans, our concentration spans can be short (some research suggests as little as 5 minutes, while others suggest 20).


We live in a busy, instant gratification society, where information is available at the tips of our fingers. We expect online sources to answer our ‘moment of need’ questions. Have you ever searched the internet for a question like the following?

‘I want to know… how to make a vegan chocolate cake’
‘I want to know…how to change a car battery’
‘How do I…reset my boiler?’
How do I…password protect my laptop?’
How do I…administer CPR?
‘I want to find…a restaurant near me’
‘I want to find…a birthday present for my mum’
We’re all used to using the internet to find the information we need, when we need it.
Why not apply this to eLearning?

Adult learners want to be in control of their learning as much as possible, learning on their own terms. In push-pull learning, this would be the ‘pull’ – offering learning content that learners want and search for, and at the moment they need it. Learners are resistant to being ‘pushed’ to learn – something that takes away the control and independence that adults thrive on. Put simply, if adults want to learn they will – ‘we’ need to take care of providing the accessible, engaging content for this to take place.

In theory: the 5 Moments of Learning Need

Mosher and Gottfredson’s 5 Moments of Need model helps us design learning based on the different needs of learners at different moments:

  1. When learning for the first time
  2. When wanting to learn more
  3. When trying to remember
  4. When something goes wrong
  5. When things change

Microlearning is ideally placed to provide learning based on need.

It also works well to introduce a series of concepts – with each ‘nugget’ focusing on a single objective (much like any podcast or piece of episodic content). Let’s say you were looking to design a learning pathway around GDPR. You might have short pieces of targeted content, such as ‘how to report a data breach’ and ‘when to report a data breach’. You could also introduce some time-driven nudges to reinforce learning by serving nuggets from your pathways to your learners on a daily or weekly basis, another advantage of short-form content over the conventional eLearning course.

There are plenty of other content forms that you can try outside of the traditional ‘block’ eLearning format. For example:

  • Infographics
  • Hints, hacks or tips
  • Quizzes
  • Games
  • Videos
  • Talking heads
  • Podcasts

Each of these content types can stand alone as a nugget of learning if it’s enough to provide the information the learner needs.

Microlearning and mobile learning

Nuggets of eLearning content are perfect for mobile devices. Smartphones are the device of choice for the millennial age, and a brilliant way for anybody to get the information they need whenever they need it, and wherever they are. Whether a learner has time to spare on a train journey or on their lunch break, they can learn on the go without a laptop or desktop in sight.

If learning content can be flexible enough and short enough, chances are that learners will take time out of their day to absorb the content and be able to revisit it whenever they need. This approach forces content creators to make their key messages short and snappy, focusing on need to know information and neat, intuitive navigation.

But there is a time and a place for microlearning.

It isn’t here to replace other methods of learning, only to complement, or to present a more appropriate alternative, dependent on the subject, learning objectives and target audience.


In practice: Aurion Learning and Children’s Hospital Ireland, Ketogenic Diet Therapy

We worked to produce a patient-information programme, helping parents of children that have been prescribed Ketogenic Diet Therapy understand the benefits of the diet, how to prepare their child’s meals, and the impact of the diet on family life. Our learners are busy parents, fitting learning around their work and family lives.

To meet this challenge, we produced a mobile-accessible pathway of learning, chunking the content into different topics, each containing nuggets of learning that learners can dip in and out of. Including video and scenario-based learning in the pathway helped deliver key messages in a concise and engaging way. Downloadable reference resources, like tip sheets, menu plans and shopping lists, were included for learners to use on an ongoing basis outside of the mobile learning, to help their children maintain a good Ketogenic diet.

If you’d like to find out more about our approach to microlearning, or how we could help you to integrate engaging microlearning into your learning strategy, get in touch.


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