Answers to EVERY question from the #ATD2018 microlearning panel

In microlearning by JD Dillon

The 2018 ATD International Conference & Expo played host to the BIGGEST microlearning panel discussion EVER!

I played host and was joined on stage by 3 of the most experienced microlearning practitioners in the industry: Shannon Tipton (Learning Rebels), Stephen Meyer (Rapid Learning Institute) and Diane Elkins (Artisan E-Learning). Rather than deliver a pre-formatted presentation, we focused on just questions from the audience. Participants submitted questions via UMU and voted others’ submissions up/down throughout the session. We started with the most popular questions and answered as many as we could in 60 minutes. As it turns out, we didn’t answer all that many.

Pre-panel audience selfie

That’s because 170 questions were submitted. ONE HUNDRED SEVENTY!!! Sure, 400+ people attended the session, but we never expected to get that many. Thank you again to everyone who attended as well as those who contributed to the discussion. We were only able to address 15 – 20 during the session, so we committed to publishing answers to EVERY question within a week. And that’s what we’re doing right now!

The full list of questions/answers is available HERE for download (PDF). It’s also linked on our LearnGeek Microlearning Resources page. The 170 submitted questions turned into 84 unique answers.

Here are just a few of our favorites …

What is microlearning and why is it better?

Microlearning is an approach to training that delivers content in short, focused bites. To be effective, microlearning must fit naturally into the daily workflow, engage employees in voluntary participation, be based in brain science (how people actually learn), adapt continually to ingrain the knowledge employees need to be successful, and ultimately drive behaviors that impact specific business results.

Microlearning isn’t necessarily “better” than another tactic. Rather, it’s about focusing on the specific needs of your employees and business and applying the right-fit solution. There’s been A LOT of marketing buzz around microlearning for the past 2 years, which is why it sounds like an entirely new thing. It’s not. It’s just an informed reimagination of existing tactics that L&D has not consistently applied in the past.

What are the biggest challenges faced when trying to take existing content down to microlearning levels?

Getting focused and moving away from “tell them everything they possibly need to know” tends to be the biggest challenge. Microlearning principles require that we separate the “need to know” from the “nice to know.” Need to know information should be conveyed in a way that is easiest to ingest and retain through concepts like spaced repetition and retrieval practice. Nice to know information should be made accessible for on-demand access when needed via a knowledge or social platform.

Not all content should be “cut down.” Rather, the needs and context of the end user must be considered to determine the appropriate solution. In some cases, existing course materials and classroom sessions work. In most cases, solutions that better fit into the workflow are likely more impactful.

Getting SMEs on the same page with regards to the difference between “need to know” and “nice to know” information can also be challenging. This is why we end up turning 300-slide PowerPoint presentations into lengthy “click next to continue” eLearning so often. We must ask the right questions, such as “if the user did not know this piece of information, could they perform as desired” to really narrow the scope of our content. Also, if you present a SME with a solid on-demand knowledge solution for the “nice to know” stuff (rather than just suggesting it not be included at all), they may be more open to the idea of content that is much more focused and user friendly.

Have you found some topics for which microlearning works especially well, and conversely, are there some topics where microlearning isn’t altogether as effective?

No. Learning is learning. Tactics will always vary based on a variety of factors, including skill complexity, user context, resource availability, etc. In some cases, a concept will be simple enough to be supported with minimal resources. For example, a job aid could suffice to help someone fold clothes correctly. However, a much more structured approach is needed for complex skills, such as flying an airplane.

Regardless, microlearning principles still apply. Even if you bring people into a classroom for a workshop on a topic like dealing with conflict, using continuous reinforcement and retrieval practice exercises can help them retain key information long-term and practice application via scenarios. Don’t look at “microlearning” as a complete separate “thing” that either will or won’t work. Rather, apply the fundamental principles where appropriate, regardless of the concept being trained. The science of learning, focusing on specific, measurable objectives, and fitting continuous learning into the workflow applies to everything we do in the workplace.

Will it negatively impact microlearning when I sneak out at 1:58 to make the ice cream break?

Nope. That’s why we’ve provided every answer right here along with the resource page at

How do you convert a traditional course to microlearning? 

You don’t. It’s not a direct lift. Rather, you should assess the desired business result you want to achieve and then provide the learning experience that will best support knowledge growth and behavior change. In some cases, you will use existing materials as the foundation of new, more focused assets. In other cases, you may completely get rid of the existing course in favor of something that is a better fit.

Don’t focus on converting content. Focus on solving high-priority problems. Start with the end result and work backwards to the content that best fits the situation. Check out my LearnGeek post on How to build microlearning for more details.

“If you build it , they will come.” Or not. What are the best ways to promote microlearning offerings to our staff to get them pumped and want to use them?

Make it simple and easy to access. Sure, marketing and communications will support your mindset change efforts as you shift your learning strategy. But they only go so far to raise initial awareness. People don’t go to work to learn. They go to work to do the job. Therefore, learning and support experiences should be embedded as close to the workflow as possible and fit into the time they have available.

For example, if you work in retail, position a tablet next to the time clock to provide a quick, 3-5 minute reinforcement exercise every day. Or, if you work in a call center, provide short videos within the CRM platform they already use that focus on challenging customer situations and fit into the typical time between calls. In every case, the experience MUST show direct value to the employee and their role. After all, this is what they are regularly held accountable for.

If it doesn’t clearly help them do their job better, they won’t do it. If it’s not easy to fit into their day, they won’t do it. And if it requires 2 logins and 7 clicks to access, they won’t do it. After all, would you make this extra effort when you already don’t have enough time to get your work done already?

Is microlearning dangerous?


How do I get started?

Find a meaningful problem in your business. It doesn’t have to be the BIGGEST PROBLEM to start off. What specific, measurable problem could you solve in order to show the value of a new approach? Then, apply a few basic microlearning principles. For example, rather than overloading a course with information, provide a comprehensive job aid and a short video focused on just what employees need to know. Measure the results of this program and adjust accordingly. Create your own business case for further evolving your microlearning strategy.

What additional questions do you have about microlearning that were not submitted during our ATD panel?