The Science Behind Microlearning: Why It Works

Microlearning has revolutionized the way we think about learning and development. In essence, it breaks down complex information into smaller, easily digestible pieces, making it simpler to understand and retain. This approach has gained significant traction among educators, corporate trainers, and learners alike due to its flexibility and effectiveness.

Understanding Microlearning

Microlearning refers to brief, focused learning segments designed to convey specific information or skills in a short amount of time. Typically lasting between 1 to 15 minutes, these courses are often interactive and employ a variety of multimedia elements, such as videos, infographics, and quizzes. This modular structure is completely different than traditional learning, which can sometimes be long or tedious.

Cognitive Science Supporting Microlearning

The success of microlearning can be traced to several key principles in cognitive science. One such principle is the “spacing effect,” which indicates that spreading out learning over time enhances retention. 

Another concept is the “testing effect,” where recalling information through tests or quizzes improves long-term retention. Microlearning often incorporates quizzes and interactive elements, reinforcing what has been learned. 

Attention Spans, Memory Retention, and Learner Engagement

Attention spans have become increasingly shorter, with technology and constant connectivity leading to information overload. Diversions from tech in particular are a major contributing factor to shorter attention spans as well. Gloria Mark, a professor of informatics at the University of California, Irvine, has found this to be true in her research. 

In the early 2000s, she and her colleagues observed individuals using an electronic device and recorded each instance when their attention diverted to a new task—approximately every 2.5 minutes. In more recent iterations of this experiment, she notes, the average time before a focus shift occurs has decreased to about 47 seconds.

Microlearning addresses this challenge by providing content in short bursts, which matches the reduced attention spans of learners. It also helps prevent cognitive fatigue, keeping learners engaged throughout the course.

In terms of memory retention, studies have shown that microlearning can increase retention rates by 80%, which is significantly higher than traditional learning methods​​. The modular nature of microlearning allows learners to revisit topics quickly and easily share to others through mobile platforms.

Microlearning has the ability to boost learner engagement because it can cater to varying learning preferences and on-the-go work styles. This leads to more effective outcomes, as engaged learners are 23% more likely to apply new skills in real-world scenarios and share what they learned with their peers.

Learning in the Flow of Work

One of the key advantages of microlearning is its flexibility, allowing learners to engage with content in the flow of their work. Because microlearning courses are short and easily accessible, learners can pull them up on their phones or other devices to get immediate learning when needed. This convenience is particularly beneficial for professionals that have a career pathway they are pursing and are practicing self-directed learning to upskill themselves for the position they want to have in their career.

Modular and Complementary Content

Microlearning courses are typically targeted on single topics, often presenting a problem and offering an immediate solution. This approach encourages learners to apply what they’ve learned immediately, reinforcing their knowledge. Additionally, because microlearning courses are modular, they can easily fit into existing learning programs and complement other training content, reducing the need to reinvent the wheel.

Start Implementing Microlearning Into Your Development Program

Microlearning continues to prove its effectiveness with its flexible approach to learning and development, supported by cognitive science and designed to meet the needs of modern learners. By focusing on shorter, targeted learning segments, microlearning boosts attention, memory retention, and learner engagement. This innovative method allows learning in the flow of work, offering practical solutions to real-world problems.

At the end of the day, it’s all about finding the right approach that aligns with your company’s learning objectives. Whether it’s microlearning or other strategies, the key is to create engaging, effective content that helps learners acquire the skills and knowledge they need. 

At Mindscaling, we specialize in this approach, offering microlearning courses that fit seamlessly into existing learning programs and promote learning in the flow of work.

See how we can help create your most engaging learning and development courses yet.