How much time, energy and cost go into employee training for most organizations? The answers might surprise you.

Studies show that in the U.S. alone, over $70 billion is spent on learning and development programs each year.

The average cost per employee for training is around $1,252, and it takes around 33.5 hours to train just one employee.      

One study even found that businesses spend an average of 21.4% replacing employees who they have trained due to employee turnover, and over half of employee turnover happens within six months of onboarding.

With statistics like those, it’s important that every effort put into employee training has a high payoff.

So how can organizations protect their investment and ensure that employee training is worth the cost?

The short answer: Microlearning.

How Microlearning Can Impact Employee Training

So what is microlearning, exactly?

Microlearning is a way of condensing learning materials in eLearning into short learning modules that are easier to digest.

Think of a typical bulky employee training manual compared to an infographic like this:

Which is easier to process in a short amount of time? The infographic, of course.

Microlearning can be used for both formal and informal learning, but they are most useful for “just in time” learning purposes (lessons that need to be learned quickly), like employee training or onboarding.

Microlearning is designed to be highly action-oriented compared to traditional learning.

In terms of effectiveness, microlearning is often presented in ways that are more familiar to the learner, such as videos and images, rather than large blocks of solid text or the traditional book-style learning you might find in school.

The idea behind microlearning is that when you take lengthy (bulky) information and condense into “bite-sized” bits, it’s easier for the brain to retain information.

Working memory, or the parts of the brain that deal with logic, perception, and language processing, can only store a limited number of “items” or pieces of information.

When the “items” of information presented are small and visually stimulating, the brain is more likely to remember, retain, and process that information quickly.

This means that even the most complicated information, like important safety training information or employee onboarding details, can be easily accessed by the brain in times of need when it’s learned in a “bite-sized” way.

How to Use Microlearning for Training Needs

So how do you take advantage of microlearning for employee training?

There are a few practical ways to take your eLearning training materials and break them down into microlearning-friendly lessons.

1. Include mixed media microlearning lessons along with eLearning modules

Instead of breaking down every single lesson into a smaller lesson, which might take enormous amounts of time depending on the length of the lesson, you simply create additional pieces of content that summarize the most important aspects of the lesson.

For example, a short, animated video, like this example from YouTube, could be used alongside employee safety training to create emotional impact for the most important safety elements.

Even video footage of accidents or a demonstration of safety techniques can help put visual cues into the brain’s working memory that help learners process the information faster.

Other forms of visual content, like images and infographics, can also help in this regard.

2. Create specific standalone microlearning modules

You can also create microlearning modules that stand alone as training materials for very specific instructions.

A safety training ebook like this, for example, is still considered a microlearning module, even though it’s several pages long and reads more like a traditional textbook.

Because it’s broken down into small, manageable sections and the overall length is still relatively short, it’s easier for the brain to digest the information.

The visual elements of the ebook also go a long way to helping the brain remember important details after the module is complete.

3. Use social learning along with microlearning for maximum impact

In addition to processing bite-sized information more readily, the brain also responds to social learning — learning aided by the involvement of discussion or interactions with others — with better results.

Bandura’s Social Learning Theory, for example, “posits that people learn from one another, via observation, imitation, and modeling.”

Here’s an example of a microlearning infographic regarding social learning that might help put the idea into perspective:

Social interaction alongside microlearning modules might include things like:

  • Branching scenarios (learned with other employees)
  • Competitive gamification (learning in a competitive environment with other employees)
  • Online forums or groups chats (social interaction around a given topic)

Adding these elements to a microlearning module or even a traditional eLearning module can help the brain process complex information in a more manageable way.

This means better retention rates in addition to the obvious benefits to employee interpersonal relationships. Social learning doesn’t have to involve physical interactions, like being in the same classroom together.

Even digital spaces, like social media sites, online forums or discussion boards can serve as a social learning platforms for employee training.

Popular Microlearning Formats for Employee Training

Here are a few steps to get you started when creating microlearning modules, as well as some examples of microlearning that you can implement into your current training courses.

1. Create a “blueprint” for your course that defines the learning goals

You can either create a blueprint from scratch if you’re creating a new eLearning course, or you can base your blueprint off a larger lesson, such as an employee training manual or currently implemented course.

This blueprint is designed to define the ultimate end goals of the lesson, or what the employee should know by the end. Highlight the most essential lessons only. These will become your microlearning modules.

2. Create a learning path that will get employees through the materials

Social perception, or the order in which information is learned (#7 on this list), can also play a role in the effectiveness of microlearning.

You want to determine which lesson should come first, and then create a learning sequence — a learning path — that ultimately moves the employee through the entire lesson in a logical way.

Create a series of small lessons based on your blueprint (e.g. “Lesson 1: Important Safety Equipment,” etc.).

3. Create a schedule for the learning path that makes sense

The other element to microlearning is that lessons can be processed in a relatively short period, but learning all of them at once doesn’t have the same benefits.

Each microlearning module or lesson should be spread out throughout the week or the month in order to increase effectiveness and improve retention.

For instance, 10 minutes spent reviewing an infographic every day for 6 days will be more effective than spending an hour reviewing an infographic on one day and then never revisiting the infographic again.

Once you’ve determined a learning schedule, you can start the module creation process.

4. Create your modules based on the needs of the employees

There’s no hard and fast rules about which modules are more effective than others. It all depends on the means you have to create them (video production might cost more than infographic design, for example) as well as employee learning styles and preferences.

Popular formats include:

  • Interactive web pages
  • A mobile app
  • A short animated video, like a whiteboard video
  • Interactive videos
  • Branching scenario or other online simulations
  • Infographics or images
  • eBooks or short flipbooks
  • Interactive PDFs
  • Quizzes, surveys or polls

Get creative with the process. Play around with different styles and formats, then ask employees for feedback to determine the best approach.

Final Thoughts

There’s no one-size-fits-all for microlearning, except that each lesson should be easy to digest for the employee who is learning it.

Consider creating a test microlearning lesson from a longer eLearning lesson and survey employees to see whether or not they prefer the shorter lesson and/or if they feel it’s more effective when it comes to retention.

It may take some time or trial and error to refine the process, but ultimately microlearning will help improve your eLearning training and save you time, energy, and money.

Jonathan Davis is an accomplished professional with experience helping Fortune 500 companies achieve success in employee communication and training programs. Jonathan focuses on delivering reliable, successful outcomes that increases employee engagement through highly targeted deliverables, creative messaging and robust programs.