Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Are Instructional Designers Incapable of Microlearning Design? - Tip #124

I have asked this serious question in multiple ways.

Why is it difficult for instructional designers to think and do Microlearning? I define Microlearning closely to that of Theo Hug's description:

Microlearning is:
  • Low effort
  • Fast
  • Easy
  • Immediately applicable
At the heart of this definition is the focus on what workers and learners actually do in very short, rapid and almost instantaneous basis while trying to fix, change and improve something.

A good illustration is about fixing the broken screw
“The screw does not fit in the equipment.

I checked the manual and it says this is the correct screw.

I tried again, a few times, to no avail.

I checked the supplier’s website to see if there has been a change with the equipment. There are none.

So, I checked the last person who worked on this. He said, ‘I used a slightly bigger screw for the next level because this screw, although it's supposed to be the right screw, does not work.’”

The above situation involves a Micro-Action. Learning is not the main focus; work and fixing this problem is the primary goal.

When instructional designers were asked by me to design content for this Micro-Action, here is what happened:

“I added all the steps to the content.”

“The learning objectives must be clear.”

“I designed a show-and-tell video.”

“I will create an exercise so they will learn and remember this.”

I wrestled about this for a while. I ran this exercise through hundreds of people in my Microlearning workshops and interviewed instructional designers to understand better.

These are their concerns:

“They need to know all the steps since they may not do it correctly.”

“I feel I am missing a lot of content if I only focus on the tasks that the worker is solving.”

“The worker will not know what they don't know. So I should want them to have all the content.”

“My leaders feel that it is too short for learning.”

“I compressed the ideas from 10 minutes to 2 minutes -- but all ideas must be in the lesson.”

What I discern from these interviews are the following:
  • Instructional designers look at workers' needs regarding the “problem screw” from a content view, instead of the workers' need to fix, change or improve things while at work.
  • The designers focus and compel themselves to provide all the content.
  • The momentum of the traditional instructional design of “analyze, design, develop, implement and evaluate” somehow slows down their responses. It is hard for designers to think of the work that needs instant solution. Their default thinking is the design process.
This is a conundrum - content by design versus content for solutions is so ingrained in the thought processes, emotional experiences, and design and production tools that it is very difficult for many to make a shift.

How to enable instructional designers to shift to Microlearning practices will remain a challenge. But recognizing that we are facing this dilemma will be a good start to help us reflect and make some changes in our approaches.

Like SMEs, designers have to let go of the thinking that learners have to know all the steps. What they should focus on instead is Micro-Action. E-learning design should help learners work and fix a problem or be able to help them make changes on the fly.


Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
"Helping Learners Learn Their Way"


  1. Do all types of training content fit into microlearning?

  2. Ilona, Microlearning works best to help workers to immediately solve problems. This is the main goal. If by training you mean that retention and memorization and building skills, Microlearning may add value, but in this case other types of training may work best. Thanks, Ray


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