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How to Design Engaging MicroLearning Experiences, Part 1

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Within two years, over half of your workforce will be comprised of tech-savvy Millennials who expect to be engaged at work. If you deliver your learning in traditional eLearning formats, you will not engage these employees effectively, which will increase the probability of employee turnover. In this competitive market, you can’t afford to lose employees due to lack of engagement and ineffective eLearning design. MicroLearning is a great solution to this problem.

So how do you design engaging MicroLearning experiences that will retain your workforce? In a previous post, we explored a definition of a MicroLearning experience, which includes the following characteristics:

  • Focus is specific, targeted, and small
  • Length is 2-6 minutes
  • Content is self-contained

When we explore learning design, let’s first begin with the content that is typically provided- a slide deck of 20-50 slides. Often included in these decks are course objectives, background information, 2-5 main content sections (each with varying amounts of content), examples, downloadable resources, and knowledge checks. Traditional eLearning design would produce a course that is intended to provide introductory or comprehensive knowledge on the given subject which would be completed within 20-60 minutes.

To create MicroLearning experiences, one might be inclined to just divide the 50 slides into five MicroLearning courses of 10 slides each. However, that it is not good instructional design and will not result in engaging your learners. Instead, let’s use the three characteristics of MicroLearning to guide our design.

Focus Is Specific, Targeted, and Small

First, the focus of a MicroLearning experience is going to be small and targeted. In referencing a large slide deck, it might only incorporate content from 3-8 slides and focus only on one topic. For example, let’s say that a slide deck on “How to Save for Retirement” included a section on the types of retirement savings plans. This section included six slides each on 401(k), IRA, and Health Savings Accounts. From this, we could create four separate MicroLearning experiences that are specific, targeted, and small:

  • 401(k)
  • IRA
  • Health Savings Accounts
  • Comparing Types of Retirement Savings Plans

Length Is 2-6 Minutes

Second, as we design these experiences, we want to ensure that the learner is able to access the specific information in a quick and efficient manner. Limiting the time spent learning is critical in MicroLearning design. This is because the learner is often engaged in a work-related task and needs to learn about something in a ‘Just In Time’ or ‘As Needed’ manner. In our example, the worker may be enrolling in or adjusting some employee benefits and wants to learn about different retirement savings options. In this case, the worker probably does not want to sit through a 60 minute traditional and comprehensive eLearning course on retirement options. Instead, she or he may just want to quickly learn the specific and targeted information about the IRA and 401(k) plans.

Content Is Self-Contained

Third, in order to create a targeted and quick learning experience, we need to design and develop content so it is self-contained and easy to access. For example, in exploring a 401(k), we can include a variety of multimodal learning experiences. There might be a short overview video, a quick reference guide, a retirement calculator, and a data chart. All of these are included and readily accessible within the MicroLearning experience.

Intent of MicroLearning

The intent of MicroLearning is to provide just enough content to enable the learner to make an actionable decision. Often, that decision is work-related and will improve work performance. Sometimes, more learning is required to support a work function. In that case, additional related MicroLearning can be accessed. The whole point is to get just the right type and amount of learning when and where you need it.

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Johnny Hamilton is a thought leader, author, and full-stack learning designer who has led projects that have resulted in over a dozen industry awards in corporate learning innovation from Brandon Hall, BIG Innovation, eLearning Magazine, and American Business Association.