Home > 70:20:10, Continuous Learning, Learning @ the Point of Work, Mobile Learning, Performance Support, Performer Support, Rants & Ramblings > Micro-Learning Is Bigger Than You Think…And Not Just For Learning

Micro-Learning Is Bigger Than You Think…And Not Just For Learning

I was recently drawn into a discussion on LinkedIn while trolling one of my groups to comment on a topic “How long should micro-Learning be?” Great question and timely since micro-learning (ML) seems to be receiving a lot of press lately. My answer was simply, “It should be long enough!”  Hey now…that’s better than the stock performance consultant response of “It depends!” But it does depend…it depends on whether you are looking through a training lens or a performance lens.

A colleague of mine, Alfred Remmits, accurately referenced following a design concept that embraces Conrad Gottfredson’s Five Moments of Need. In particular, I feel the most performance-centric of those five moments is Moment #3 – APPLY. That moment typically manifests in a live workflow, and the performer (who will be forever a learner) is stuck…trying to remember whatever preceding learning gained in moments #1 or #2 is appropriate to apply to actual work. What’s on the line is business risk and urgency to PERFORM effectively and efficiently.

The question then should be less about duration and more about “What is the best asset to use at that moment?” When your hair is on fire, logging into the LMS to review a 20-minute Fire Safety course is not a viable option. That said, I read other comments suggesting that ML could be up to 20-minutes in duration. Other comments ranged from as short as 20-seconds and many points across a range topping out at 20-minutes; hence, my answers of “Long Enough!” and “It depends!”

This is starting to remind me of the 70:20:10 framework when the ratio turns out to be 85:12:3 and heads begin to explode; heaven help us if it’s 95:5:0…or worse 100:0:0 because a checklist was sufficient to close the gap. And there it is…CLOSE THE GAP…that’s what we’re chasing isn’t it? Close the performance gap! I could give a rip what we call it; I want whatever asset is most appropriate for THAT moment of need. There’s still plenty of room for formal learning if and when it’s needed to satisfy some check-the-box compliance gate. But I digress…where was I…

“Long Enough” & “It Depends”

Long enough to be accessible at the moment of need…long enough to be business relevant…long enough to be effective. Call it a module, chunk, object, nugget, burst…it matters not. Heck, it might not even be content at all; the asset might be an instant message collaboration with a SME or a mentor. And “It depends!” upon the attributes of the Moment of Need…if it’s Moment #2, and I’m after a deeper dive into MS Excel on Pivot Tables…20-seconds won’t work, but 20-minutes might be perfect.

Whatever “the asset” is…or its duration…or its access method…it should be “intentionally designed” to satisfy the task of sustaining measurable performance at the moment of need. It quite simply becomes a design decision as to how long…what media…what medium…what venues…are best based upon the actual context of the work at hand in that moment…which I lovingly refer to as the Point-of-Work.

Our design and development and delivery decisions should be driven by the attributes found at the Point-of-Work. Our decisions should embrace Intentional Design which requires looking through a performance lens at the “actual workflow” and identifies the following:

  • What people/roles are involved with the work?
  • What are the workflow processes at the task-level where things break down…and WHY (root cause)?
  • What is the nature of the content being consumed at the Point-of-Work…and where is it located?
  • What systems and technology are accessed and are available…both enterprise systems and Performer devices (desktop to mobile)?
  • How is successful performance measured? (So we can validate asset effectiveness)

What the article I’m referencing and comments I’ve read make clear illustrations of the gyrations we are heading into now with this “new” micro-learning approach. It will be easy to become distracted, so don’t get all raked up in a pile over what we call it…or how long it should be. It’s about what the approach can facilitate at the moment of need to get the DO done.

Look at the moment of need through a performance lens…not a training lens. It is the “work” that needs doing that should drive:

  • …the intentionality of your design decisions
  • …your choice of development tools
  • …and accommodate the technology involved to affect delivery.

Whatever the asset turns out to be, it should be long enough and good enough to get the task accomplished.

In reality, micro-whatever isn’t new, L&D is finally figuring out what performance support radicals like yours truly have been spewing about for years. Methinks that finally arriving at ground zero…the post-training Point-of-Work…in a live workflow…at a moment of need…that we quickly see what asset(s)…media…mode…venue(s) work best to get the “DO” done; and lo and behold, “it ain’t trainin'” assets.

And no…we don’t abandon Training, because we are now in a position to re-use all the micro-assets as extended blend that can be embedded right into the Training we still do…albeit in smaller chunks…embedding the exact same micro-assets used at the Point-of-Work, and using the same technology to access it all. Why not stuff all of the 70:20:10 into what’s left of the 10?

Let’s bring Point-of-Work into the classroom. If your heart is set on building an hour of eLearning, let it be comprised of a business-relevant boatload of micro-assets embedded into experiential scenario-based exercises where Learners will access the micro-assets via the technology they will use on the job and then apply it as they will be expected to do so as Performers…right after they are hurled through the window of opportunity upon new hire orientation graduation.

I’m so pleased to see all the excitement around micro-learning, and I have to say…it looks like micro-learning could be the cheese in which we hide the performance support pill. We just don’t tell anybody and we never have to define it. Okay…this micro-rant is now…long enough! 

Gary G. Wise
Senior Manager Learning & Development – Stores Performance
Macy’s Inc.

  1. December 29, 2016 at 2:03 pm

    I am forever amazed at how confusing Business types make Education. Being a highly trained and experienced educator I sometimes wonder just what the heck “they” are talking about. It rarely resembles the teaching practices I have done with students.

    Micro-learning reminds me of some experiences I’ve had where a simple nod of my head told the student what they needed to know. Sometimes all it took was a simple finger point to a source or maybe even a “what do you think”. Was that micro-learning?

    You see, it seems to me that business types try their best to simply erase the teacher from the equation. What types of assets do we have and how long will this take? Those questions abound. Planning meetings and development meetings and…it goes on and on.

    I remember working as an ESL teacher in Korea for a Summer and having to develop and deliver six hour long classes each day. No supplies. No books. No curriculum. It was just me and them and they really didn’t even know my language nor I theirs. No THERE is a training challenge. I did it as did my fellow teachers with varying levels of success. But that is the Education game. People are integral to learning. Good teachers are ESSENTIAL to good teaching.

    How good are your “teachers”?

    Instead of reading the latest belches of business gas trying to pass for wisdom, why not spend some time in a Kindergarten class with a caring and talented teacher. You will be amazed at what they do with so little.

    Now go and do likewise.

    • December 29, 2016 at 2:11 pm

      I agree with your question, What is Micro-Learning? I think the answer is Whatever Works! Methinks a valid definition is more aligned with what can do effectively and efficiently even if that is a “pointing finger” from a SME, colleague, help desk, or a 10-second video. I focus on what has to be accomplished more than on instructional integrity of the object created. If a crayon drawing on a cocktail napkin works…

      • December 29, 2016 at 2:27 pm

        While I am all about practical efforts, even having gone so far has taking grad. level courses in Pragmatic Philosophy, I still believe it isn’t the methods that we need to focus on. Any method will do. It just depends on WHO uses the methods or lack of “methods”. It’s about learning and in my educational philosophy it is about facilitating that action of learning. We can go back to Socrates and learn that we cannot “make” someone learn no more than we can make a plant to grow or a wound to heal.

        It may be wiser to take more time in finding the people who can teach, who can help learners IF you actually have someone who wants to learn. But I suspect the underlying motivation is trying to MAKE people care enough to MAKE them learn what WE want them to learn not necessarily what THEY think they need to learn.

        Examine what your motivations are just as a good actor needs to know the motivation of their character or else their performance will not ring true.

  2. January 2, 2017 at 12:06 pm

    Gary, Thanks for sharing your insights. I subscribe you many of your thoughts.

    I call it Micro-Actions.

    Micro-learning is

    1. about doing, at the instant need

    2. NOT learning, rather solving problems, fixing and changing things or finding new ways; the consequences of which are results and learning.

    Because of this, I feel that it’s unfortunate the Micro-Learning has to be labeled as “learning.” Instead I call it Micro-Actions.

    3. content developed for application points, ready-to-use, context-ready, experience based.

    3. a principle and philosophy around fast, quick, easy to apply, least effort to find answers to fix/change/improve things. Therefore, Micro-Actions, permeates in all form of learning methods. This is how human’s do and learn, a natural and organic way.

    4.a juncture of business demand to cut costs, speed up training, keep up with business technologies and processes, the new SEEKERs – newly manifested learner behaviors where people seek solutions – open use and free use and openness of corporate IT to small tools and gadgets.

    So the timing is ripe for Micro-Learning or Micro-Actions.


    Ray Jimenez

    • January 2, 2017 at 12:22 pm

      Could not agree more, Ray! Thanks for reading and sharing your insights! Happy New Year!

      • rayjimenez
        January 2, 2017 at 12:28 pm

        Happy New Year, Gary!

    • January 2, 2017 at 12:56 pm

      But if we called it anything other than “learning” the “learning” industry would struggle to recognize it. I’m all for calling it something else because I don’t think learning is the right word – it’s more of a performance support.

      • January 2, 2017 at 1:08 pm

        It’s a paradigm shift to considering what’s needs doing versus what needs learned. Now that does not discount learning it simply shifts the perspective to ensuring effectiveness and sustainability at the Point-of-Work. It really IS Performance support but as soon as those words cross your lips it contradicts the core paradigm of traditional thinking and believing that Training drives performance. This will continue until the training stops focusing on the tools of learning and shifts to a paradigm that seeks performance outcomes at the Point-of-Work. We need a “performance industry”.

      • rayjimenez
        January 2, 2017 at 1:15 pm

        Chet, Thanks. I struggle with the same issue. Both labels “learning” and “performance support” may not wholly capture the principles, but performance support is closest. It may also fall in knowledge management, another label. Candidly, I have mixed feelings. However, I focus on the learning world since most of our colleagues in learning suffer from content exhaustion and need help. Even a deeper issue is compliance learning. But I could so wrong. Best, Ray

      • rayjimenez
        January 2, 2017 at 1:30 pm

        Gary, You hit a nail. The tools we have today follow the “blind leading the blind conundrum” – vendors (blind) provide solutions to mimic what learning practitioners (blind) do now.
        Very little vision moving to the future.

        There has got to be a break somehow. Or maybe it is already
        happening. I see more hybrids of tools now. This is hopeful.

        My sense is that the paradigm shift you refer to is now happening. I get more people asking me to do large scale
        micro-sizing their efforts; it’s like fitting homes with solar panels – gradual but is happening steadily.


        Incidentally, I wrote a book on 3-Minute eLearning 10 years ago. But only today, after all the millions hours of clicking page turners and content exhaustion that people are realizing there’s got to be a better and cheaper way.

      • January 2, 2017 at 1:50 pm

        There is hope, Ray! I’m seeing the desire at Macy’s though the journey is just beginning. Right place…right time…finally!

    • January 2, 2017 at 1:58 pm

      I just love these discussions so I hope you don’t mind if I put in my two cents. 🙂

      Why not call it the Google fix? It really doesn’t have much to do with “learning” as that implies a change in behavior over a period of time; among other things. If all you need is to “fix it” than just “google it”, get your answer, apply band-aid, and go on your way. Wash & repeat. And repeat. Maybe someone will remember what they did and why and can extrapolate the action into further actions such as how to solve the need in the first place. But that would involve learning. 🙂

      Maybe a better name would be “band-Aid: A quick fix to cover up an under-lying deficiency. That deficiency is caused by something is not well but we don’t have the time nor the inclination to actually Fix It, we just want to get to the next step.

      Now I have no problem with this IF you are in an emergency situation, you just need something now and really don’t care what caused the problem or want to actually solve it. Sort of like crossing a bridge that has holes in it. All you need is to get to the other side by whatever way possible. To actually patch the hole or discover what caused it in the first place would require understanding and time. But you, you are off to the next step and you leave fixing the problem to someone else. But watch yourself or you may find that your next step is actually a broken step that was never never fixed; only given a band-aid.

      (Sorry for the poor example. Hey, it’s the holidays. Happy New Year!)

      • January 2, 2017 at 2:52 pm

        Larry, “learning” never goes away. It’s continuous. Whether using performance support, applying a bandaid, or suffering through anhour of compliance based eLearning The question I’m putting forth is along the lines of your “bridge”. Are we fixing it or crossing it? What is the objective? The objective decides whether a bandaid or a crossing is appropriate. Performance outcomes define whether the objective has been met. Bottom line, is the performance and sustainability of same. How we get to sustained workforce performance matters little to me…I just know that chasing learning through training only after so many years have been short of successful. Point-of-Work and moments of need are our ground zero…and there will likely be a broken down old bridge that needs crossing along the journey.

      • January 2, 2017 at 5:21 pm

        I hear your frustration. I know you have had some very bad experiences with training in the past. I am not belittling your struggle at all. In fact I am encouraging you to evaluate it by thinking about it in other terms. But if you get mad at me go ahead. Block me if you must. But here are some things I think everyone should consider.

        As for learning being continuous, I don’t think I agree. Learning in the abstract yes. But why is it when so many people make all those New Year’s Resolution they continue to fail? Loose weight. Exercise more. Drink less. Stop smoking. Are they learning? I don’t think so. Do they “know” all the information? They are drowning in it. They see it every day on all their devices so they should… . But they don’t. Why?

        Here’s another one. There are lots of NFL coaches out of a job as of today. Why? Some succeed. Others don’t. It’s not their qualifications or the facilities or anything else. Why can some coach to success and others can’t?

        Look at college basketball. I went to Indiana University so I watch Tom Crean coach his ever loving heart out each year. He makes over 3 million a year training 15 kids. He has a staff that make hundreds of thousands each year. They have to succeed or they loose their jobs. Last year he was Big Ten coach of the year. This year he is loosing to no-name schools. Why?

        Why was John Wooden able to win year after year? Why did Chuck Daily not even have to coach the Dream Team, doing nothing more than rolling out the basketballs?

        I think you may be getting a hint at what I’m getting at. But think on it anyway.

        Now, while I do agree there are times when a point-of-need solution may be the best you can get, I don’t think this is the best way to “train” your staff. Let me ask you this, would you prefer to go into battle with a well trained Marine or someone armed with a “Battle for Dummies” book and Alexis? This is the most pragmatic form of training there is to prepare for life and death struggles and not some hypothetical situation of what “might be” yet they continue to train to prepare. I don’t think you will ever read a book called “The One Minute Warrior”. If you do you are a fool.

        But enough of all this frustrating thinking. I believe the solution lies, not so much in you nor in any of those reading and commenting on all this bloviating. You all have the desire and you all have the skills and I think you are all doing the best you can under the circumstances. But I think you are all in a battle that you can’t win unless…you change the rules.

      • January 2, 2017 at 6:10 pm

        Larry, I think we’re closer to the same truth than you might think. Is performance important? Yes! Is learning essential? Yes. Both are necessary. My only point is that learning as a solution is a “Yes, and…”. Point-of-Work and moment of need are perfect for reinforcing learning where knowledge retention loss has occurred. It takes both to sustain performance. Thanks for your passion my friend.

      • rayjimenez
        January 2, 2017 at 5:21 pm

        Larry, Thanks.

        You have an intriguing idea. And thanks. You are helping me question and clarify my own assumptions.

        I’ve reflected on the fix it or solve it or do it quickly actions. So, I spoke with some scientists from Caltech and Northrup and learned some insights. My research continues.

        At moment of needed, the fix it, solve it and quick action does not necessarily mean band-aid. Although I agree with your observation that quick fix may suggest temporary
        solutions (temporary fix, haphazard work).

        I learned from the scientists, that small quick actions can lead to cumulative solutions of final solutions. So in this context, series of micro-actions, might it mean using Google or a conference call with another scientist or confirming a data source, suggest that big or permanent solutions, may start with small (micro) analysis, alternative options and then final or transition solutions. Micro-actions in this regard is iterative.

        Your idea of band-aid makes me smile. It reminded me of the many solutions in actual work situations where the band-aid actually became the permanent solution, and it became the best practice. I love the “duct tape” illustration. (other examples like “workarounds”, the famous Post-It error by 3M; the first Intel chip was an accident, they didn’t know what to do with the chip since they were trying to solve another problem.

        Using what Gary says, I guess, micro-actions could serve as bridges from one moment of need to another.

        My hunch says that learning happens each step of the way. Each micro-action involves learning. But the focus is on results, hence, learning may not be apparent. Furthermore, learning may not be obvious because the results and solutions are the focus. Lessons are only learned and documented to support the results.

        In contrast to learning environments, the goal is learning (though we proclaim it as performance). So we use metrics of retention and ROI (which is elusive).

        The paradigm shift required is FROM thinking of a micro-content — memorize and learn and retain it — TO applying the series of micro-content to create results. However, many of our colleagues in the learning worlds, with their tools, metrics and processes – halt, peg and freeze mico-learning in memorization and retention refrigerators.

        Thanks for your patience with this long reply.



  3. Mike Begg
    January 2, 2017 at 5:10 pm

    Bite size information = knowledge transfer sharing = micro learning……simples

  4. Hal Christensen
    January 3, 2017 at 1:20 pm


    Your post is, as always, both insightful and delightful.

    Perhaps Micro-Learning could be the cheese to hide the Performance Support pill. It’s been 25 years since Gloria Gary’s book prescribed that pill for the training community, and it has been disappointing how few have yet to swallow it.

    Let me second your argument for bringing the Point-of-Work into the classroom — embedding micro-assets, available at the Point of Work, into experiential scenario-based exercises where Learners will apply them as they would on the job. I have employed that approach numerous times over the years, and in each instance cut training time by at least a half–and enabled far better performance back on the job. (I once slashed 30 days of call center training down to four, while at the same time reducing time-per-call and agent-turnover measurements.)

    With that approach, Micro-Learning becomes significantly more powerful. And, as technology makes it easier to create micro-video and other assets, ML’s impact will become even greater.

    But a random collection of micro-assets does not a Performance Support system make. What transforms ML into PS is the way that those assets are delivered and accessed. The common practice of treating micro-assets as courses, accessible by catalog, divorces the assets from the work they should be designed to facilitate. It also masks the need for those assets to be actionable and usable to support both scenario-based exercises, in the training, and productive work, on the job.

    The next step for us in this transformation is to improve our ability to design simple, workflow-based delivery platforms specifically for the Moment of Apply.


    • January 3, 2017 at 1:28 pm

      I hear you, Hal! Hiding the pill is precisely what I’m suggesting. But then, is it still a pill if we don’t call it a pill? And that is becoming more of my approach…less defining what “IT/The Pill” is and more focus on what “IT” will do at the moment of need and the Point-of-Work. I firmly believe we can slipp PS into main stream learning by not telling anyone we’re doing it. Allison Rossett suggested we shut up about it and just do it…tell ’em it’s training and shut the hell up. Methinks that makes a whole lot of sense and now the Micro-Learning momentum is giving us the perfect vehicle to contaminate with PS. By hook or by crook, right? Happy New Year, my friend! Always a pleasure…

  5. Matthew Mason
    January 6, 2017 at 1:28 am

    Great article. Micro learning is as long as it needs to be and this length will be different for each person. One person might need to spend more time consuming the micro content, another more time applying the micro activity. But it then gets me thinking. Should all learning be as long as it needs to be. Shouldn’t we drop the micro (and in other cases the “e” or “m”) and just focus on “learning” that provides enough information and activities to address the performance issue. Let’s all just focus on learning.

    • January 6, 2017 at 5:49 am

      You nailed it, Matthew! It’s not so much about the tool as it is what performance we enable by using it. One media, mode or venue may work better than another but it’s the work context or Point-of-Work that influences that. Thanks for leaving a comment!

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