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Microlearning vs. Macrolearning - Which Is Better?

Jul 5, 2019 3:33:40 PM

Micro - vs. Macro-LearningAre you wondering if microlearning is right for your organization? Or is it macrolearning that is better?

What is microlearning?

Microlearning is comprised of short bursts of elearning content, delivered as stand-alone, just-in-time trainings; or bundled into a group of related trainings. These trainings are designed for specific learning outcomes. Microlearning is often used as informal training, and can be a way to empower employees within your organization, letting them review nuggets of learning whenever needed.

Microlearning is typically developed using rich media format and is compatible with mobile devices, such as tablets and smartphones. Because of the shortened nature of the content (5-7 minutes) and engaging format, employees can view the training material virtually anywhere.

Microlearning is not the panacea that will solve training problems in the workplace. It is not a new concept, and it is not the optimal training built for the modern employee. As with any learning experience, the content has to engage the learner, be tied to the desired outcome, and result in a change in behavior or knowledge - aka, the learning piece.

Can microlearning be effective? Absolutely! Take an example of an on-the-job impromptu training offered from one employee to another: how to update a voicemail message. One employee shows another how to do update the message, and then watches while he updates the message. Microlearning!

In some ways, microlearning is a modern version of content chunking. Instructional designers and trainers have long-used chunking to organize training materials for optimal results. Chunking is taking a large topic and breaking it down into smaller pieces - organized in a logical, more comprehensible manner. Chunking removes superfluous information from the content, making the topic more comprehensible.

But there is a significant difference between chunking and microlearning: chunking shows the topic in relation to the whole course - allowing the learner to make connections and see relationships between topics. Microlearning does not necessarily do that - those relationships have to be well thought out and understood by the instructional designers in order to be effective.

Some effective uses of microlearning:

  • Review – post-training interactions to reinforce learning. Can be used within the structure of a larger course as well.
  • Recall – support recall by using short review bursts, spaced at intervals post-training.
  • Task Support – just-in-time training when a specific task is required (think, watch YouTube 'how-to' video).

Is microlearning better than macrolearning?

No - each has a place in a well developed corporate learning strategy. Microlearning allows employees to participate in training activities virtually anytime, anywhere, using any device. That can be beneficial in specific circumstances: when practice is needed to gain proficiency (think, learning vocabulary), or a 'how-to' question needs answering (job aide or online help).

Macrolearning continues to be the bedrock of a corporate elearning strategy because it gives instructional designers the creative license to build course content that meets the needs of individuals, and corporations. It gives them the freedom to chunk content into related groupings and use technology (or not) to engage learners. It lets them offer the best learning experience to the user, which gets results.

This is not an either/or choice for organizations. Microlearning can be a successful piece of a larger plan. But it must be connected to the bigger plan in order to achieve training goals.


An effective corporate training program should include all of the elements that will make learning effective for the users. The broad strategy should include all manner of materials, including job aides, guides, in-person training, online training, microlearning, macrolearning, on-the-job and third party training. There is no 'one size fits all' answer to training.

It is difficult to build complex, long-term learning without macrolearning. That is how people develop a deep understanding of an issue, and learn to apply the information in other settings. Microlearning plays a role in this broader system, but it alone cannot deliver the results that impact job performance.

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BL Snodgrass
Written by BL Snodgrass

UX expert, elearning veteran.