5 min read

Virtual Training Strategies: Embracing Microlearning

Virtual Training Strategies: Embracing Microlearning

5 Recommendations To Maximize the Learning Experience and What Virtual Learning Experts™ Need to Know.

This is part of an ongoing column by Virtual Learning Expert™ Jennifer Finan. She’s exploring trends that impact virtual classroom trainers and designers to improve learner engagement in hybrid virtual classroom learning. 

Is Microlearning The Answer To Keeping Online Students Engaged?

As a fellow Virtual Training Professional, I bet you’ve been asked to shorten your sessions a few times. We all have at one point or another. People are busy and organizations want their people to learn and reach leadership goals, but don’t want to take them away from their work while they do it. Could microlearning be the answer to more efficient, but highly effective, strategies for training virtual teams?

What Is Microlearning And Why Is It (Still) Trending?

While there doesn’t seem to be a commonly agreed upon definition of microlearning, there is a consensus that it means education through short pieces of content. AMA Research defines microlearning as, platform solutions that "provide employees with short bursts of focused educational content that fit into a daily workflow and are accessible on any device." Meanwhile, Elearning Industry describes it as “the more engaging, less time-consuming, and cheaper-to-produce sibling of regular eLearning.” Basically, it is an efficient and time-conscious way to continue professional development for employees. 

Microlearning material in the blended work environment could be video, text, infographics, job aids, podcasts, or any medium as long as it’s short and to the point. How short is debatable for virtual training with some professionals defining micro as 2-5 minutes and others arguing parameters of up to 13 minutes. The time itself is not what’s important, but rather that it’s short and focused on exactly what the learner needs to know and nothing more.

Modernizing The Virtual Learning Platform With Microlearning

Microlearning is not new. Think about the flashcards you used at school to learn spelling or math, Word of the Day from Dictionary.com launched in 1999, or Duolingo, the popular language learning app, has been around for over ten years.

Microlearning has been one of the top 10 trends for the last five years of the L&D Global Sentiment Survey. In 2022, it ranked 7th place, ahead of learning experience platforms in 8th place and Mobile delivery at 11th. As the report emphasizes, these results vary significantly depending on the country and industry. If you’re reading this in New Zealand, you’re probably very familiar with the microlearning trend already as the country has ranked microlearning in the top three for many recent years.

Why is it one of the key trends in our industry? Could it be that attention spans in virtual classroom learning are decreasing to goldfish proportions? Or is that a myth? Listen to our experts tackle learning and development myths in the recent Modern Learning on The Air podcast  for more about that. Think of all the different options there are now for reading book summaries (eg. Blinkist, Get Abstract, or Headway), the popularity of Twitter where only 1% of Tweets hit the 280-character limit, or 60-second Instagram Reels. Maybe less really is more?

What Impact Does Microlearning Have on Learner Engagement and Virtual Learning Strategies?

Great microlearning is, “less about the time and more about breaking a performance goal into focused steps that are as short as possible, but as extensive as necessary,” said Alex Khurgin, director of learning and creative at Grovo. On this basis, microlearning can have a huge impact on learner engagement by incorporating creative ways to engage students online.

Microlearning usually involves chunking information down into bite-sized pieces and most of us will agree that makes it much easier to absorb. We know that if we want to intellectually engage our learners, we need content that is relevant to them. Keeping our training focused helps us ensure it’s relevant to our learners’ intent. When we build our training programs for onboarding or leadership development programs, we want to include opportunities for people with different levels of experience to access content that’s meaningful to them. Microlearning helps us achieve these goals. We could create chunks of content suitable for beginners and different chunks tailored to those more experienced to best suit the needs of each level of employee.
Microlearning is often considered to be more self-directed by nature since it often involves several pieces of informal learning making it ideal for leading remote teams. Learners are engaged emotionally when they enjoy learning. Giving them the choice to watch a video, view an infographic, or listen to a podcast will help them enjoy it and take responsibility for their learning. Because microlearning is brief, learners are going to feel that positive sense of accomplishment sooner which helps inspire them to pursue further training.

Incorporating Microlearning Into Virtual Learning Training Campaigns

So microlearning is likely a key component of many learning campaigns, but should it be the only component? Probably not. Consider Dictionary.com’s Word of The Day. This site allows people to learn a new word each day, but without understanding how to use the word in a sentence, it’s almost useless. Learners need context. Learners also need practice. Duolingo encourages practice through spaced repetition, but without dedicated practice with speakers of that language, are learners going to become fluent? Incorporating microlearning into a blended program while including opportunities to provide context and practical application seems to be a more effective solution for engaging students online.

5 Recommendations for Designing Virtual Training Workshops with Microlearning
  1. Make each piece of content focused. Even though the microlearning will be used to deliver formal training, it needs to work as a standalone piece that can be used AFTER the training is complete. Decide on a clear, specific learning objective and make sure the microlearning meets that need and nothing more. Keep the content completely focused on that one outcome and don’t add anything that could distract from it.
  2. Make content accessible in the moment of need®. If learners can’t access the content AFTER the formal learning is complete, it’s not a useful tool. Analyze your audience and know when they will need to access the microlearning. Ensure it's easily accessible when and where they need it. If you don’t, the investment will be wasted.
  3. Provide more information for those who do want it. There will always be some people who want more context, background, theory, or access to examples. Don’t be scared to include links to additional information for the people who do want more.
  4. Choose the medium wisely. Consider your learners and how they will be accessing this microlearning. Regardless of what you want to provide, what will suit them best? An easy way for InSync to communicate platform changes is by video, but our Producers won’t watch a video when they’re in a session. They want screenshots. Again, go back to the Moment of Need.
  5. Remember that each microlearning asset is part of a larger blended learning campaign. Most microlearning is not going to be standalone content, but rather part of a learning campaign incorporating virtual classrooms and other self-directed work. Ensure the microlearning content doesn’t just sit somewhere completely separate from the rest of the blend, but that it’s incorporated, discussed, and used throughout the entire learning experience.
What do Virtual Learning Experts® Need To Know About Using Microlearning For Online Classroom Training?

Teaching a BIG class with SMALL content can be challenging. We have many standalone pieces that need to provide a coherent and meaningful narrative and everyone on the virtual delivery team has a role to play.

  1. Virtual classroom designers must exercise even more restraint than usual when using the microlearning approach. Often designers are tempted to enhance training content with scenarios, additional information, and theoretical concepts that are not always strictly ‘need-to-know.’ I encourage these creative approaches when they improve the virtual classroom design, but designers need to know exactly what to focus on and ensure that the learning objective is met without including any unnecessary information. Designers utilizing microlearning may also need to learn how to create different materials with graphic designers or video creators to develop content making it even more critical that the objective of the asset is focused.
  2. Virtual classroom facilitators need to know all the content in the learning campaign, not just the live classes. They need to know when, where, and why learners can access everything, understanding exactly how all the microlearning content fits in the blend. They may also need to understand who needs what if there are different chunks that are specific for different roles or different groups of learners.
  3. Virtual classroom producers need to know where everything is and be able to assist learners with how to access the content. Producers may also get involved in bringing microlearning into the virtual classroom and helping learners understand what content is relevant to them.
  4. Virtual Learning Coaches™ need to know what assets are being used and why. This is so they can be successful at working with everyone in the team to ensure they understand what microlearning is and isn’t while making sure that it’s being used appropriately not just because it’s a trend, but because it is effective as a creative way to engage students online.
Learn More About Microlearning and Teaching Tools For Virtual Classrooms

Are you wondering how to design entire live online learning events? We can help with our Expert Seminar Series workshop - Virtual Classrooms: A Microlearning Approach.

Learn More - Virtual Classrooms: A Microlearning Approach

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