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The Micro-first Model for business training

Whenever somebody says they are going to take a course, we immediately think of something that is lengthy and takes no small amount of effort. That’s mainly because the educational system is still primarily based on long lectures, comprehensive chapters and rather boring documentaries. Truth of the matter is that at the end of all these we don’t remember much of the information.

Corporate training started with pretty much the same methods but with all the online developments, a new type of teaching appeared. Micro learning has moved from being a momentary trend to becoming the go-to for corporate training.

It is being increasingly used by numerous organizations whether it is for formal or informal learning. It is the favorite of all users as it consumes less time and is available to them exactly when learning is needed (just-in-time). Furthermore, its rich media formats ensure greater learner engagement and superior information retention.

Organizations are embracing micro learning as it is more cost-effective to design, quicker to deploy, and can be easily updated whenever that is called for. L&D professionals can employ micro learning nuggets flexibly, either as stand-alone assets or as multiple micro-courses.

The brain does not work well as a funnel

It is important to note, however, that just building a library of really short informative modules and giving access to them to all employees does not ensure positive learning results. People may click through them when necessary or, if such goals are set, cram as many as possible in one day in order to meet the quota.

Learning is a process that lasts a lot longer than five minutes. With this in mind, Stephen Meyer of the Rapid Learning Institute came up with a concept that incorporates micro learning but moves that from being the main learning event into constituting just the initial step.

He states that since decades of neuro-scientific research show that for learning to stick one needs to revisit the concepts at spaced intervals, a brief online module should act as the ignitor of the behavioral change that is desired. Instructor-led training is mainly focused on the initial event and treats follow-up almost as an optional step, allowing for very little time and resources for it. Using the metaphor of a funnel for the human brain, he explains how pouring large amounts of information only leads to everything getting mixed up and not necessarily the essential data making it through.

Changing the proportions

What he proposes is a paradigm shift: turning the funnel upside down and instead of filling it with tons and tons of information, to introduce just one concept or one skill in a short learning event. This is to act as only the start of the learning intervention, dominated rather by follow-up activities aimed at helping the learner remember, integrate and apply the information. These activities may even consist of classroom instructor led training combined with either one on one or group coaching.

The point is to stay focused on that one skill or change in behavior.

Traditional training has employees spend up to 90% of the time in the initial learning event and maybe 10% in follow-up activities. The ‘Micro first” concept inverts the ratio with only up to seven minutes allowed for the e-learning module or video. Since true learning (the one that sticks for a long time and can be subsequently built upon) takes time and various activities there are a number of these following the initial teaching moment.

Time spacing is paramount

The key to this model’s success is to know how to time these follow-up interventions. Anybody who has ever taken an exam knows that cramming information the week (or night for those notorious procrastinators) before works only on short term. The brain can hold the information long enough to get a decent score but no more than that. With traditional corporate training, employees are more than capable to remember stuff until the end of the module and answer the final test questions correctly.

Even if in numbers the results might seem awesome and the L&D people can rightfully claim that the intervention was a success it’s not really the right measure. The ROI of training can only be calculated from actual business results so people need not only remember but also be able to apply what they have learned. In many cases a major behavioral change is sought after and that definitely does not happen upon watching a film of clicking through some screens (regardless of the quality of information or design).


The Micro-first approach changes learning from an isolated event to a real process, properly time-spaced into various interventions ultimately leading to measurable positive results. Employing it does not require major changes in the materials but does need a completely different frame of mind. Here you can hear about it in its creator’s own words: