It’s long been known that brief, repetitive learning increases long-term retention. And now, with the added convenience of mobile accessibility, “microlearning” experiences are more popular than ever. In this 2-part series, we’ll provide an overview of microlearning, comparing its features to the more traditional – or macro – learning style. Next, we’ll explore the relevance of microlearning in a tech savvy workplace and its benefits for the individual learner and the organization.

What is Microlearning?

Microlearning is a targeted learning strategy which is quickly gaining momentum with Human Resources and corporate training departments. Comprised of brief, stand-alone units, microlearning is aimed at individual learners and can be delivered through a variety of platforms including simulations, videos, webinars and even skill-boosting games.[1]

And there is a special and timely advantage of microlearning based on millennial employees. By 2025, it’s projected that millennials will make up 75% of the workforce.[2] Because microlearning is learner-driven, it addresses many of the needs and habits of younger workers. Providing brief learning units and having them accessible on mobile phones and tablets appeals to modern workers of all ages, but especially to younger employees, improving training quality and completion rates.

In her article, “The Brain Science of Microlearning: Why It Works,” author Victoria Zambito offers insight on why microlearning is part of a significant shift in training and development.[3]

In 2015, millennials surpassed Gen Xers as the largest generation in the workforce. By 2025, they will make up 75 percent of the workforce. That means that in the next 10 to 15 years, we will see the greatest transfer of knowledge that has ever taken place. With the transfer of knowledge comes a transfer in learning behavior.

We watch videos, access Instagram or Facebook posts, search retailers, buy products online, and check our emails and social media accounts several times a day. Everything comes into the brain very quickly, and it comes in small pieces.

Employees receive information outside of work in little chunks and snippets – whether they’re millennials or not. We need to reach learners in a way that is most comfortable and natural for them – with short snippets of information, available through apps and mobile devices, that are ready and accessible when and where the user needs or wants it.

3 Key Components

Learning Units

Microlearning units or “nuggets” are very short, specific, simple lessons – an example being a simulation to practice handling a business-critical situation or interaction. The nuggets can be linked to a series of related nuggets, each focused on adding to a bigger picture.

Assessment of Learning

Establishing that learning took place is a key element to a successful microlearning approach. Learning is usually assessed immediately following each unit in the form of a short quiz or other means of demonstration by the learner.

Accessibility of Learning

One of the most effective ways to provide your employees the microlearning they need is to make learning units available on devices the learners use most. This allows them access at the time they’re needed (which can occur even in the middle of a work task) rather than having to try to uncover the information within the contents of a much larger reference or setting, such as a manual or upcoming classroom training session.

How does microlearning compare to traditional macrolearning?

Microlearning is best suited for providing quick, timely information to learners.[4] As Isha Sood, Senior Manager of Marketing at Harbinger Group put it, “Microlearning focuses … on the achievement of ‘just one thing’.”[5]

In contrast, macrolearning is the traditional method of learning something new, such as through college courses or formal training programs. This type of learning usually involves long stretches of time, requires instruction or guidance throughout and builds upon previous content too connected to be learned efficiently through small units. [1]

To put the difference in perspective, microlearning would be suitable for learning how to load a specific software program, while macrolearning is appropriate for learning more complex skills such as computer programming. 

The following chart highlights some of the main distinctions between the two types of learning.



Geared toward informal learning

Geared toward formal learning

Instruction on concrete concepts

Instruction on abstract concepts

Learning specific tasks

Learning large complete skill and knowledge areas

Taught in 3- to 10-minute units [4]

Taught in multi-day or longer-term learning sessions

Lesson is self-administered

Course is taught by others

Learning units are easily accessed through electronic devices

Instruction is provided through structured settings

Goal is to learn “just one thing”

Goal is to learn concepts which are connected through building block threads

Next week, we’ll conclude this two-part series, focusing on seven smart strategies for using microlearning.

Meanwhile, check out our new EASy Rehearsal platform, enabling you to deliver immersive, custom learning experiences that we tailor to your specific needs.


[1] 8 Surprising Ways to Use Microlearning Activities in Your Online Training Course, Christopher Pappas.

[2] 75 Percent of 2025 Workforce Will Be Millennials, Brookings Data Now.

[3] The Brain Science of Microlearning: Why it Works, Victoria Zambito, Training Industry.

[4] How to Make Microlearning Matter, Annie Murphy Paul, SHRM.

[5] Microlearning Best Practices: Creating A Lesson, Isha Sood, eLearning Industry.