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Should we call it micro?

Podcasts and Audio | 19.10.2017

This month, the team discuss the latest buzz in learning technology - the continued growth of 'micro learning'. But should we be calling it something else?  

Paul Westlake  0:00  

Hi, welcome to Kineo stream of thought. I'm Paul Westlake, Solutions Consultant at Kineo and today we're discussing micro learning. Im pleased to say today I'm joined by

Krista Woodley  0:16  

 Krista Woodley learning consultant,

Rory Lawson  0:19  

Rory Lawson, account director, 

Matthew Miller  0:21  

Matthew Miller, senior lead learning designer.

Paul Westlake  0:24  

Cool, thanks very much. So a lot of noise in the industry around micro learning. I think when we read any blog posts recently, they all got micro in there somewhere along the line. So I think it makes sense to start with the obvious question. So what do we mean by micro learning? 

Rory Lawson  0:38  

So I'm going to kind of go straight in there and kind of set it off on a negative note, perhaps. So micro learning is, you probably won't hear me when going into talking to my clients, go in there and say, I want to talk to you about micro learning today. 

Paul Westlake  0:53  

Are they asking you for it, though? So is it a phrase that they've heard? is there a misunderstanding around it? or, well explain to us why you wouldn't be saying that? 

Rory Lawson  1:01  

Well, I think what we see through the requests coming in through the door, for example, whether that's through the website or other that there are people asking for micro learning. But when going in and talking about learning, I wouldn't start off with I'm here to talk about micro learning. It just feels a little bit strange to jump straight into a term that's been wrapped around, perhaps a specific delivery, a specific kind of solution. So yeah, I'm just not a big fan of it. And there are lots and lots of reasons which will come out in this talk today as to why and micro learning maybe one of those terms that's been put out there in the marketplace is a bit of a buzz maybe but actually, there's other things behind it that are beneficial. And those are the things that perhaps we should be talking about, rather than micro learning straight off the hat. 

Paul Westlake  1:58  

Yeah. So if we've got an hour long course, you know, breaking it up into 10, six minute sections, and calling it micro doesn't make any more fit for purpose it was when it was an hour long course.

Krista Woodley  2:07  

 But can I say? I mean, that's nothing to do with that's not to do with the term is that that's bad design. So you don't stick a label on it to improve a bad design, you improve the design. So so although, you know, potentially, there's quite a lot of baggage around the term micro learning. Is there such a thing as well designed micro learning?

Rory Lawson  2:27  

Yeah, I think there is there are definite benefits to delivering content in a way that is more accessible for learners, especially nowadays, when people are time poor. They need something that is, you know, the shorter, they need something that they can reach out to as adjusting time type tool. There's some of the benefits of micro learning. But I think micro learning is a term for me just carries a stigma of people just chopping up content and throwing it out for no reason at all other than to convert something into something shorter. I think we from a design point of view to go to your question, are there good design principles around it? Yes, absolutely. And if we think about what the end user need is, and what how they're going to apply what they're being taught within that micro learning piece, then you can start to think about good design models for shorter deliveries. 

Paul Westlake  3:21  

And what what defines something as micro is, is it a length the piece? Is it what it's aimed at? I know, Josh Burson said something about it's just a just in time training is micro can be micro, but you wouldn't use it for the for the bigger pieces. So is it defined by that length? Or am I missing the point on that? 

Rory Lawson  3:41  

Well I think that in the industry at the moment, it really is just the length that is the common theme that goes through how it's being described, its not really design principles that are being used consistently across the industry that I certainly see. 

Krista Woodley  3:55  

No, I think, certainly, it's a generic term, isn't it? And we all bring our best practice to it. So certainly, we have our own idea of what best practice is for that. But Wikipedia, I looked it up on Wikipedia, Wikipedia says it's an emergent paradigm, which basically means we're all just, you know, in the industry, we've all got a sense of what we think it is. And we're all just working out in our own ways and together. So you know, that's why it's interesting that it's up for discussion up for debate, isn't it? 

Paul Westlake  4:22  


Rory Lawson  4:23  

If we take the time principle, it's interesting how you determine what is a micro? Yeah, one, two minutes, is it five, six minutes or you know, longer its really awkward to describe actually, so perhaps it's better to look at it from what the end-users need is? So do I need to look something up point in time type need? That doesn't sound like micro learning to me, that sounds like something else completely different. That's more googling for for the answer. So that might be just more of a performance support. That they're looking for.

Krista Woodley 5:00  

I think that's where micro learning can be really helpful when it's combined within a kind of wider program of the I think it's, you know, I think whatever we call it, that kind of approach of just things that are very short, I think is great. I think it's really modern. It's obviously where, you know, everything is headed, 

Paul Westlake  5:16  

let's assume im the client, and you've come in to meet me, and you're not going to mention micro to me, I absolutely get that. Historically, the way that's worked is I would get someone like yourself or myself to come into a business because a piece of learning, I need you to design for me. But what you're saying now is, you're gonna look at what I'm actually trying to achieve. And you may achieve that by developing 6, 7, 10 micro pieces that are going to help me achieve that one thing rather than designing one. Is that what you're saying? Or what are you expecting me as the client to say to this, and I want a suite of templates for micro learning,.

Rory Lawson  6:06  

I would still tend to focus on where it's a learning need you're trying to solve, or whether it's a performance need, or even an experience that needs to be wrapped around both of those micro learning sounds very solution focused on a wrapper for a solution. Yeah. But underneath it is actually there are some genuine drivers for delivering learning in a in a way that's shorter and more concise, and so on. But it might be talking about it in different ways.

Paul Westlake  6:22  

 And that's a good point. so Matt how does that help do you have to adjust your approach to go down this route? 

Matthew Miller  6:29  

It really is context dependent. So let's say for example, that your micro learning is supporting a bigger piece of learning, it could be follow up pieces that are more about giving a chance to people to take part in activities later on. So it could be five minute activity that follows as part of that kind of testing effect. So people can take a quiz later on five minute piece just for fun, but it re-engages them with the content. 

Paul Westlake  6:52  


Matthew Miller  6:53  

It could be a piece that's actually a lead up to a bigger piece as well, or it could be performance support, really its a case of looking at the content and thinking about one, does it actually realistically break down into these small pieces as as Rory saying, and then looking at, really where that fits in a much, much wider blend. So really, it's not about repackaging the same learning in smaller chunks, it's more about completely different solutions. 

Krista Woodley  7:21  

And Id add, I think, from a design point of view, sometimes that opens up the horizons, doesn't it, it brings you more opportunities, and more variety within the design solution. Because when you might have historically been a learning designer, now you are potentially a video designer, you're designing audio, you're designing the entire kind of solution architecture in a different way, and possibly a more complex way. 

Paul Westlake  7:46  

Are there certain topics or certain pieces of learning, you think lend themselves particularly well, to micro and on the flip side to that are there things that we just think you know what, we can't do that. So compliance, for example? Or is it an approach we could use for pretty much any topic? 

Rory Lawson  8:03  

So what does work, I think, is using media for micro learning. So media is a great way of condensing content, you can say things much more clearly and quickly, you know, for the use of audio or though animation. And so, so I think what we've seen quite naturally is an increase in that type of medium coming through and being embedded within micro learning. But then wrapping around that other interactions that play off the back of say, video, you know, present a scenario within the video or an expert clip, and then ask questions to help embed that afterwards. So I think we're seeing a lot more of that in micro learning. And that I think that's a good thing. 

Paul Westlake  8:46  

Just picking up on that for a second then. So that could work really nicely in a situation where we are providing certain pieces of the learning if you like, and then maybe the client themselves might have a video interview that shows can they help sort of almost becomes a bit of a combined effort to create the overall curriculum? 

Rory Lawson  9:04  

Yeah, I think it becomes more collaborative in the design approach if done well. But we still see those examples where it is, here's my two day face to face program. Here's the manual that went with that the facilitator notes 

Paul Westlake  9:17  

make it into a bit of micro learning please, 

Rory Lawson  9:19  

make it into another piece of learning. That does not interest me at all, it's more about solving a genuine problem behind it. 

Krista Woodley  9:26  

So just going back to that point about the media richness, and that lends itself so well to mobile learning, which is increasingly what people want more and more of. And so I think those are two kind of parallel, parallel shifts in the industry as well. 

Rory Lawson  9:39  

Yeah. So I mean, micro learning is a great format for mobile delivery. There are kind of conversations going on that suggest that actually, although people want mobile learning, they're not actually using it. 

Paul Westlake  9:54  

That's right. 

Rory Lawson  9:55  

So it's a bit of a contentious one, but actually, micro learning does fit well onto a smartphone, for example. And if you embed media into that, then it's a perfect medium, so I can see lots of benefit in that area of the market.

Paul Westlake  10:09  

I think we just need to keep a few things in mind, it is not an approach for dumping content in smaller chunks. So that's not what it's about. Like any learning, it needs to be aligned with good design principles, that doesn't matter how long it is, you know, ultimately, its got to have a good design underneath it. And most importantly, it still needs to align to the needs of the learner.

Paul Westlake  10:29  

Well, thanks again for your time, everyone, I'm sure we're never going to agree what we're going to call this but if you do want to continue the conversation with us, you can pick up with us on Twitter where we're @Kineo or you can download a copy of our digital transformation guide at

Your speakers are

With over 20 years’ experience of creating impactful digital learning, Krista leads and supports the Kineo EMEA learning design team. She provides consultancy and solutions for a range of clients, including Credit Suisse, Lego and Expedia.
Matthew has worked in all manner of elearning and media for over a decade. He loves to combine attention grabbing ideas, storytelling and good UX with solid learning practice. With one eye on the future, Matthew’s passionate about new technologies and platforms for developing skills and knowledge.
Paul was previously a Solutions Consultant at Kineo.
Rory has over 10 years’ experience directing innovative learning solutions and strategies and is a leading Solution Consultant at Kineo. Helping to define clients’ requirements, Rory works with the Kineo team to produce creative and effective elearning and LMS solutions that meet clients’ needs.