Why Microlearning Works – The Science Behind the Theory

Updated: Sep 19, 2019

The way we consume media is rapidly changing, with advances in technology allowing us to instantly absorb and interact with small snippets of information. We spend hours scrolling through social media sites, watching countless videos on YouTube, reading online news sites, checking our messages across numerous platforms and more, filling our brains with these nuggets of information at an immense rate.


The World’s internet users have passed the 4 billion mark, with more and more information added and shared every second. When we’re all busy, all the time, we look for short, sharp and bite-sized material, that cuts straight to the point.


And it’s not just millennials! We’re all experiencing this incredible shift in information transmission. So, if we know this kind of media consumption is an increasing norm outside of the workplace, we can learn from this behaviour and meet the same expectations through the learning material made available in the workplace.


Why not make short snippets of content, available on the go, that are readily accessible anywhere and anytime? From here, the concept of “microlearning” was created. Microlearning, a method of digital learning which utilities in-the-flow-work learning opportunities to promote and support workplace performance and development, addresses a key topic or idea in a compact and comprehensive way.


Proven to aid learner retention, microlearning applies the theory that little and often is a more effective learning solution than long-winded and expansive units, improving overall long-term performance and comprehension rates.


According Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve, it’s believed that we lose over 80% of what we’ve learnt after just one month without intervention. This exponential rate of loss means that without reinforcement, the time, energy and money invested in these learning initiatives is often fruitless for both the learner and the organisation.


In practice, the results of rapid memory decay show that a one-hour piece of learning completed once will be less effective in terms of knowledge retention than four 15-minute courses, spaced over the same period. The key here is spacing out small, digestible information which is far more likely to be committed to our long-term memory when experienced in these short bursts.


What’s more, shorter courses are often less disruptive to the flow of work, accessible at the point of need to help a learner to tackle a specific problem or improve a particular skill. As such, microlearning is an ideal solution for organisations who are looking to make a cultural shift from push factor training, where learning is seen as a time stealer which you “have to do” to an organisation where learning is actively encouraged, endorsed and promoted. For employees to see eLearning as something which is truly beneficial to their personal and professional development, and is clearly supported by the organisation, making learning relevant and readily accessible throughout the work day is essential.


It’s clear that the landscape of workplace learning is ever-changing, with the introduction of microlearning theory inevitably set to shape and define the future of online training. Microlearning certainly has the potential to continuously evolve to support busy modern learners, as it is grounded in learning theory which very much reflects our shifting expectations of increasingly bite-sized knowledge and media consumption we experience today.


For more information on microlearning or to discover how Sturdy Learning can help boost your organisation’s learning culture, check out our blog series or contact the team today via hello@sturdylearning.com.

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