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Micro learning: From small dots to the big picture

Waterlilies by Claude Monet, Detail

Do you have any idea of what this picture represents?

Cotton balls, maybe? The two whitey things in the middle could be some sort of flowers, but the ones from the left are definitely popcorn. As for the blue swirls... are they delimiting mountains?

Perhaps changing perspective will help?

Waterlilies by Claude Monet

Definitely no popcorn in this picture. It's one of Claude Monet's famous impressionist paintings, Water lilies. Impressionism was a tricky art movement; it still is. If you look closely at an impressionist painting, all you see are some dots, lines and other messy paintbrush strokes of color. But if you take a few steps back or even go to the opposite side of the room, you are able to distinguish details and actually see the big picture! Impressive, isn't it?

It sure is. But what does Monet have anything to do with the topic of this blog?

More than you would give him credit for. Read on.

How micro learning and Impressionism connect

Whenever you see someone at work — a colleague, a manager, a new employee — scrolling down a Twitter feed, do you think he or she is wasting precious company time on a frivolous micro-blogging platform? You might be right. It's like they're eating popcorn while letting you prepare a five-course dinner for a demanding client!

But what if that Twitter feed is actually a Twitter list with all the major players in the industry, tweeting about seven-course dinners? They actually might learn something from that and later help you with impressing that client.

Just like a few paint strokes looking like a popcorn can turn into a water lily, in a pond, alongside other water lilies and plants, making up a beautiful and impressive painting, so can micro-moments of seemingly unimportant activities turn into surprising details of an effective learning process.

What's more, these micro-moments of learning don't have to be all spontaneous. They can be included in the company's learning strategy and significantly contribute to employees' skill development and performance. You might be surprised to find that they can weight as much as any other established (bigger) training activity.

How to make micro learning work

It all goes down to knowing exactly who you're dealing with. Chances are, a lot of your employees are millennials. They already are the largest generation in the US workplace and it is forecast that they'll make up to 75% of the workforce by 2025. You can check some simple general solutions for training millennials here and here.

Don't worry too much if your team also has older employees, especially if your company's activity is knowledge based. Modern workers can't ignore technology these days.

Once the audience is clear, it's time for you and/or your L&D team to roll up your sleeves and get to work. Here are a few tips on how to include micro-learning in your workplace learning strategy:

Narrow topics

Go through all company training materials and brake them into smaller chunks of information. That best practices policy? Turn each chapter into a stand-alone material. Long chapters? Break them even further. Business processes and procedures? Do the same. All the software training? The same.

Narrow down everything until you get to one learning objective for each of the learning materials. One clear and achievable objective is always better than more bigger fuzzy ones.

Keep things short

Go through the more but smaller learning materials and make them even smaller. Cut out all the fluff text, make a graphic from a page-long text, or better yet, shoot a video. Or more. Learners should be able to cover each micro module between two and 20 minutes — and make the 20 minutes ones the exceptions.

Embrace diversity

As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, use as many visuals along with plain text. Millennials love videos and learning materials with images and graphics usually get higher engagement rates. Design them in the form of presentations, videos, quizzes, games, stories, social activities, discussions, or any other form you deem appropriate.

Also, don't forget to add extra content for anyone wanting more on the subject. You can link to different resources — micro or not — or put them under download buttons.

Design for mobile

If you already do this, good job! If not, what are you waiting for? Employees use their mobile devices all day long. During a train ride, while waiting in line somewhere, or before they go to bed, they turn to their smartphones and tablets to make the time pass faster. Who says they can't or won't use that time for learning, going through one of your micro modules?

Is micro learning the best approach for training?

Please don't hate my answer, but... it depends.

Super important and complex learning topics could be better delivered in a more traditional way. All the micro learning modules could create confusion if it's not clear for the trainees what they need to do or how to connect them into the bigger picture.

Most of these weaknesses could be overcome, however, and turned into a successful approach.

Micro learning can have plenty of benefits, all spanning from giving employees more control over their learning experiences. They can choose:

  • when to learn — most likely at their point of need
  • how often to learn — today, tomorrow, each week, thus embracing continuous learning
  • how to learn — reading, listening, watching, clicking/tapping, and always at their own pace
  • how much to learn — one micro module of five minutes or another two of 10 minutes

However you look at it, micro learning seems to be one of the best training technique, for it adapts to the needs of the new age learners.


Each micro learning activity is like a dot, a line, or a messy paintbrush stroke of color in an impressionist painting. So next time you see someone spending time on Twitter at work, take a few steps back and try to see the big picture — they might be learning how to paint a water lily.


Oh, and next time you see a poster for an Impressionist Exhibition at your local art gallery, get yourself a ticket. I'll promise you'll have fun. You could always eat popcorn while looking at the paintings.