Compliance & Ethics
Jessica Donohue Image
Jessica Donohue
Senior Specialist

What is microlearning? Definition, examples & best practices

April 4, 2023
0 min read
Person holds pen in hand up to his chin while considering how microlearning can enhance compliance and ethics training programs.

Microlearning delivers short 3-5 minute bursts of information in various formats, making training on complex topics more digestible for learners.

Traditional learning has a retention rate of just 15%. While that can be problematic for any subject, those retention rates could pose a particular threat to companies that need their employees to retain and act on critical compliance and ethics practices. That’s where microlearning can make a difference.

Microlearning sees retention rates as high as 70-90%. This training is shorter, simpler and easier to fit into an employee’s workday, which is why many companies make it their go-to for compliance training.

Below we take a deep dive into the following topics:

  • A definition of microlearning
  • Examples of microlearning and its advantages
  • Understanding the challenges of microlearning
  • Best practices for including microlearning as part of an effective training program
  • Why compliance training programs should contain a microlearning component

What Is Microlearning?

Microlearning is training that delivers short, bite-sized pieces of information that the learner can engage with whenever they have time — even if that’s between meetings. While each module should be short, that doesn’t mean they have to be simple. Training modules can range from one-minute text-based lessons to rich, ten-minute animated videos.

Though microlearning actually dates back to 1963, it has all the hallmarks of social media. It’s dynamic and asks for less time from the learner, thereby capturing their full attention for the length of the lesson. Think of it like Tik Tok for compliance training.

Microlearning Examples

Microlearning can take many forms. It’s important to remember, though, that the goal isn’t necessarily to create modules that are just fun to look at; the goal is to use different media types to make your subject more engaging.

The most common types of microlearning are:

  • Text: These could be text-based training that stands on their own or phrases and paragraphs you add to images and videos.
  • Images: Photos, illustrations, diagrams, etc., are a great way to make the text more engaging. They can also do the teaching all on their own.
  • Videos: In microlearning, videos should be at most ten minutes. They’re a great way to teach a new concept quickly.
  • Games: Games are a great way to engage your employees. Include quick questions or challenges that encourage them to dive into the module.
  • Assessments: These are another great way to engage employees, but they also give you insight into whether your training is working. Assessments can be quick end-of-module tests or quizzes.

Benefits of Microlearning

Learning doesn’t have to be a chore. While it’s true that employees may never fall in love with compliance and other training, microlearning is a way to deliver information quickly that will stick with learners.

Some other benefits of microlearning are:

  1. It’s Comprehensive: Microlearning modules may be brief, but they actually allow you to go deep. There are countless niche topics that your employees need to know, but they don’t warrant full-blown training. Microlearning allows training teams to develop brief, specific content for every aspect of their training so no process, policy or procedure is left unlearned.
  2. It Keeps Training Teams Agile: Training priorities evolve as the business landscape evolves. Teams that have invested in expensive, long-form training might struggle to include new developments in their training. But with microlearning, you’ll be able to create fresh content as new topics arise that your employees need to know.
  3. It Fits into Employees’ Packed Schedules: Employees are busy. While being busy isn’t a good reason for employees to remain untrained, it can be unrealistic to slot a one- or two-hour training into their calendars. Microlearning allows them to train at their convenience.
  4. It Can Be Budget-Friendly: Budget can make effective training prohibitives. In the U.S., the average employee costs $45 per hour. If you look at a five-hour training for 7,500 employees, the training would cost over $1.6 million. And that’s before you consider the cost of the module itself. Microlearning cuts both the labor and production costs that come with training.
  5. It Improves Retention: Perhaps the most essential benefit of microlearning is retention. After all, training is just wasted time if employees don’t remember what they learn. Research has shown a much higher retention rate than traditional learning, making it an excellent choice for modern ethics and compliance programs.

Challenges of the Micro-Module Format

Microlearning can be a win-win for employees and employers alike. But there are contexts where it may not be the best fit.

Microlearning can face challenges for:

  1. Comprehensive Subjects: The reality is that compliance, ethics and many other corporate topics are complex. Even though microlearning is affordable and attainable, some subjects may warrant more extended training.
  2. In-Depth Topics: Microlearning is well-suited for topics that only require a high-level overview. Consider another format if your employees need more time to understand a subject.

For these reasons, mixing in long-form pieces of training is always a great idea to create a well-rounded program.

Microlearning Best Practices

How you set up your microlearning program matters. You need to effectively create and deliver modules to get the full advantages of microlearning. Consider these best practices as you develop new training:

  1. Match the Format to the Topic: Microlearning isn’t one size fits all. Before developing a micro-module, ensure it is the best format for the subject. Consider a longer-form training method to cover a more complex topic.
  2. Customize Your Content: It’s tempting to chop existing training into smaller pieces of content. Instead, re-write content so it’s dynamic, to the point, and fits seamlessly with your chosen microlearning format.
  3. Make It a Game: Gamification is one reason microlearning is so engaging. Consider building interactive elements into your training to grab your employees’ attention.
  4. Vary Your Media: After reading emails all day, your employees may not want to read more training modules — even short ones. Likewise, they may not want to watch another video if they’ve been on non-stop video calls. Incorporate a mix of media — photos, videos and animation — to beat their fatigue.
  5. Assess and Optimize Your Training: You might get only some modules right on the first try. And that’s okay. Continuously monitor your training and complete employee assessments to ensure they’re really learning. This can be valuable for you but still fun for them; make these training goals and assessments part of the microlearning experience.

Microlearning for Compliance Training Programs

Compliance teams can use microlearning in a number of ways to enhance their compliance training and improve their overall compliance program. Here are the top reasons compliance teams should adopt microlearning as part of their training programs:

  1. Targeted Learning: Compliance teams can use microlearning to deliver targeted training to employees on specific compliance topics or risks. This can help employees to better understand and comply with relevant regulations or company policies.
  2. Just-in-Time Modules: Compliance teams can use microlearning to provide just-in-time training to employees when they need it most. For example, employees can access microlearning modules to refresh their knowledge on a specific compliance issue before a high-risk activity or as regulations expand and change.
  3. Continuous Reinforcement: Compliance teams can use microlearning to reinforce compliance training over time. Employees are more likely to apply key compliance concepts in their daily work by providing regular reminders.

By using microlearning, compliance teams can improve the effectiveness of their compliance training and reduce the risk of compliance violations.

Make Microlearning Your New Standard

Compliance and ethics training matter. But engaging your employees isn’t always easy, especially if you’re working with tired, long-form content. Microlearning is a great way to make compliance part of your employees’ day-to-day and ensure they retain the policies and procedures they need to protect your organization and its data.

Download our white paper to learn seven tips for using microlearning to make compliance training more memorable — including the best ways to increase employee engagement and retention.


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