Instructional design for microlearning

ID for Microlearning blog post


The way we learn at work is changing. Employees don't want hours of training. Modern learners want to solve problems quickly, they want to learn while working. A number of Sprout Labs’ clients use LinkedIn learning. The usage data shows that most people engage only with certain segments of a course; the actual number of course completions is often low when compared to how many people engage with segments. When these organisations ask employees about what they value about the platform, they talk about the power of being about to find solutions to problems just in time. Modern learners want microlearning experiences that they can access in the flow of work.

What is different about instructional design for microlearning as opposed to most instructional design is that you need to think more about how the experience is going to be used and how it’s going to be accessed. There are two questions to ask yourself.

1. Are you designing a microlearning experience, or a micro-resource?

Because microlearning is often used in the flow of work, it’s even more important that during instructional design we consider the context of how the material will be engaged with. It's useful to make a distinction here between a ‘learning resource’ – or what Cathy Moore calls a job aid – that is used while working to solve a problem, and a ‘learning experience’ that is active and involves practice and feedback. At Sprout Labs we have started to use the terms ‘microlearning’ and ‘micro-resource’. A microlearning is an active learning experience; micro-resources are literally just pieces of information, e.g. a video or flow-chart.

The 5 moments of need and microlearning

Bob Mosher’s 5 moments framework of needs provides a useful tool for thinking about how learning is going to be used.

microlearning id deep learning

Deep learning – driving change

When a learner is approaching a topic for the first time, the learning experience needs to be active and deep, where they are able practise, get feedback and reflect on their performance. Because this a deep learning experience, this is a moment when microlearning might not be suitable. A learner might need to concentrate for a period of time in order to fully explore and understand the new concepts and ideas. One way this can be achieved using microlearning is by using a learning campaign style approach where microlearning experiences are sent out over a period of time.

Supporting performance

If the focus of the learning experience isn’t one of the first two stages of need then microlearning would be a good fit. Often during these stages, what the learner actually needs is a micro-resource to help them get a job done.

2. What type of experience are you designing and how will it be accessed?

Once you have figured out if the learning experience will be focused on driving change, supporting performance, or a combination, you can think about the type of experience you’re designing and how it’s going to be accessed.


  Driving change Supporting performance

Practice, feedback, and reflection – learning is a process

Spaced over time, might be before or after bigger events – learning campaigns


  • Self assessments
  • Practice – interactive scenarios
  • Recall and retrieval

Learning in the flow of work

Questions and answer banks


Learning management system
Spaced learning platform – Glasshouse
Learning experience platform

Microlearning platform
Integrated into other platforms
Learning portal

When an employee has a problem they need to solve, they don't generally go to the organisation’s LMS to solve it. If you want your design to focus on the first two stages of need, and it’s deep learning, the place for a learning experience might be your LMS. But if the learning is going to be in the flow of work the best place for the resource might be on your intranet, learning portal, or integrated into the workflow.

Designing the actual microlearning experience

Once you’ve thought how the learning experience is going to be used and how it will be accessed it’s time to design the media. A few key principles: make it visual, use few words, and make it active.

Make it visual

Our brain perceives visual information quickly, which is one of the reasons why video is a great medium for microlearning. During design, one of the first questions you should ask yourself is, how can this be visualised?

Use few words

microlearning doesn’t need complex introductions. It needs to be precise and to the point. A useful thought when designing microlearning is, how can I say this in 7 words or less?

Make it active

Often microlearning is just a resource that a learner needs to access in the flow of work, but that doesn't mean all microlearning has to be passive. If microlearning is about driving change it should involve activities such as self assessments, opportunities to practise, and recall.

This blog post was based on material from our microlearning 101 webinar.

During the webinar we explore:

  • the common types of microlearning
  • how microlearning enables your teams to learn while working
  • when is the right time to use microlearning
  • the link between learning campaigns, performance support and microlearning.

Access the recording and resources