Microlearning: Myth Busters and Memory Boosters

In today’s “always on” world, we are constantly inundated with information, making it a challenge for our brains to keep up. As professionals, continuous learning is essential to advancing our careers and excelling in out roles. However, traditional training models are outdated and lack critical advantages. We will cover several advantages that microlearning bring to professional learning today. 

The Ebbinghaus ‘Forgetting Curve’ proved that the biggest drop in retention happens soon after learning. Dating back to the 1880s, but confirmed with a recent 2015 study, Ebbinghaus’s research is an enduring model that demonstrates how memories are lost over time. If we learn something new, but then make no attempt to relearn that information, we remember less and less of it as the hours, days and weeks go by.

The good news is that new research is confirming that adopting a microlearning approach can help us remember more for a longer period of time. Microlearning helps learners fight the effects of the Forgetting Curve by reinforcing knowledge on a regular basis. Microlearning is a learner-centered approach to education that helps to retain information by breaking it down into small, bite-sized chunks – typically under 10 minutes — in order to improve focus and support long-term retention.

But with any new methodology, myths can cloud the truth. Let’s debunk some common misconceptions and explore the power of microlearning for continuing education.

Myth #1: Microlearning is only suitable for simple topics.

Truth: Microlearning excels at breaking down quite complex subjects into digestible chunks. Imagine learning a new software program in five-minute video tutorials instead of a day-long seminar. There are many examples of the successful use of microlearning in scientific fields such as healthcare, where knowledge is literally a matter of life or death. The effectiveness of microlearning for health care professionals has been reported in clinical studies such as a mobile app for recording learning experiences in nursing practice[1], or a mobile gaming device that promotes nursing research knowledge, attitudes, and practice[2].

Myth #2: Microlearning is just about short, fun videos.

Truth: Microlearning can take many forms – infographics, interactive quizzes, podcasts – the key is focused content, not format. Khan Academy’s video lessons are a classic example of a successful microlearning approach with their short, engaging videos explaining complex topics. The same goes for Duolingo, a language learning app that uses gamification and spaced repetition to teach languages.

Myth #3: Microlearning replaces traditional training.

Truth: The decision between traditional training methods and microlearning should be based on various factors, including the nature of the content, learning objectives, and the target audience. In most cases, microlearning is best used in conjunction with traditional training. By combining the strengths of both approaches, organizations can create a comprehensive learning experience that caters to diverse learning styles and maximizes knowledge retention.

Myth #4: Microlearning doesn’t stick.

Truth: Studies show microlearning boosts knowledge retention. In fact, research shows that microlearning can increase long-term retention by up to 80% compared to traditional methods. In a specific 2023 study, microlearning activities improved biochemistry students’ comprehension of difficult concepts and performance, and significantly increased exam scores[3].

Myth #5: Microlearning is expensive to create.

Truth:  Microlearning can be more cost-effective than traditional training, which often involves higher expenses like venue hire, instructor fees, and travel. Microlearning reduces these costs by enabling learners to acquire new skills through brief, focused sessions that integrate seamlessly into their daily routines.

Microlearning: A Tool for Every Professional

By tailoring microlearning to specific needs, professionals can stay sharp and competitive in their fields. Microlearning empowers professionals across multiple areas of expertise including:

  • Doctors: Microlearning modules can quickly update them on new drug interactions or surgical techniques.
  • Lawyers: Bite-sized lessons can keep them informed on recent legal changes or compliance updates.
  • Salespeople: Microlearning can provide quick coaching on new product features or sales techniques.
  • Engineers: Master new software features with step-by-step microlearning modules.

By incorporating microlearning into your professional development routine, you can retain knowledge more effectively, stay ahead of the curve, and ultimately excel in your field.

[1] Becker MB, Behrends M, Barthel C, Kupka T, Schmeer R, Meyenburg-Altwarg I, Marschollek M. Developing a mobile application for recording learning experiences in nursing practice. Stud Health Technol Inform. 2015

[2] Lane SH, Serafica R, Huffman C, Cuddy A. Making research delicious: an evaluation of nurses’ knowledge, attitudes, and practice using the great American cookie experiment with mobile device gaming. J Nurses Prof Dev. 2016

[3] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1877129723000102