Design a microlearning unit



A joint microlearning unit is conceived as a self-contained, very short learning experience that focuses on one learning objective or skill for on-the-job corporate training or regular education. As for microcredential courses, a microlearning unit requires careful design:
The concept and functionalities of microlearning units;
Follow procedures of micro-credential course design;
Break down microlearning units out of existing courses or course units
(Co-)create a new microlearning unit from scratch
Review the microlearning unit.

The concept and functionalities of microlearning units

In addition to micro-credential courses and programs, which focus on complex knowledge and skills in a specific area, there is a growing practice in micro-learning units that include a short learning experience for less complex knowledge or skills. Microlearning is an emerging topic. According to recent meta-research, it could mature and develop into a critical major trend in its own right (Leong et al., 2020).

The “micro” characteristic is central. However, there are no rules about the volume of microlearning units as it depends on the types of learners, the complexity of learning, the learning context and learning strategies adopted by the learning organization. They often range from bite-sized “nuggets” of 5 minutes to 30 minutes when used in corporate work-place training. They can also be part of a larger set of units or alongside a program, which is the case with some typical approaches to language learning or software training.

In this section, we consider any learning experience that is less than a microcredential as a microlearning unit. In the European Commission’s definition of micro-credentials, this would mean less than 1 ECTS (see Table 1).

Although microlearning is currently increasingly applied in corporate environments, there is also interest in developing microlearning units in mainstream higher education for teaching specific knowledge and skills. One of the benefits is that these units can be developed faster and used as sort of reusable learning objects or open resources that can be integrated into the design of other courses. Micro-learning units developed for business can also be used as learning objects if they comply with higher education design principles applied.

Because there is a need for flexibility for use in the workplace or anywhere, microlearning units must be suitable for use on mobile devices.


Microlearning units do not have the same functionality as micro-credentials, because they are short and therefore not suitable for more complex knowledge and skills. They can still provide a high-level view on a subject. Sometimes they are also used as a preparation or addition to a more complex online course or programme.

Therefore, microlearning is not the answer to every learning need. It focuses on solving one problem or answering one question at a time. It cannot therefore be used to provide broad, fundamental knowledge on any subject. It’s great for on-demand microlearning, but it should be found right when needed (Tipton, 2020). Microlearning is also used to in-
troduce customers to a product, train salespeople to sell products, etc.

In a corporate learning context, microlearning units are in particular suitable for just-in-time and on-the-job training for a particular task or for the training of professional knowledge and skills, also for 21st century skills. For employers, making learning available at the point of need is a seamless way to blend learning into the regular flow of work activities, supporting a culture of learning (Tipton, 2020).

Because microlearning units are short, they can be developed and delivered faster, responding to changing business goals and new training demands (Andriotis, 2018).


Follow procedures of micro-credential course design

The design of micro-learning units should follow the same rules of constructive alignment as is the case with the development of micro-credentialing courses: first the learning outcomes or competences should be defined in terms of knowledge and skills and learning activities should be designed starting from the learner’s prior knowledge or skills.

There are at least two alternative avenues for developing microlearning units: breaking down microlearning units from existing courses or course units, or (co-)creating a new microlearning unit from scratch.

Break down microlearning units out of existing courses or course units

As a first alternative to developing microlearning units, it may be appropriate to split an existing course or course unit into modular, self-contained microlearning units suitable for workplace learning. Existing course content is used because it is broken down into specific small knowledge or skill components for on-the-job training in corporate training environments.

The advantage of this approach is that the content of these microlearning units is already developed and they share the credibility of courses that may already have been credited.

The pitfall of using existing course material is that it is not entirely suitable for learning in a corporate environment, neither from a content standpoint nor from a microlearning course design perspective (see below). When taking it to a corporate environment, adjustments are necessary.

(Co-)create a new microlearning unit from scratch

The second alternative is the development of completely new microlearning units, possibly in co-creation with employers or professional associations. The collaborative design of such microlearning units may include the analysis of the specific knowledge or skills required, the development of learning activities relevant to the business environment and ultimately the professional approval or recognition of the unit. Universities in this case provide content, based on research and innovation, and support the learning design of the programme. During the process it can be decided that a microlearning unit can be stacked into a micro-credential course, possibly in combination with other units.

In this second alternative approach, it may be more difficult to gain recognition for a self-contained microlearning unit in an academic setting. The academic valorization of a microlearning unit assuring access to a broader academic course or programme may require a procedure for the recognition of prior learning or experience. However, universities and quality assurance bodies are thinking about ways to identify these types of micro-learning units.

Adapt the learning design to learners on the workplace

Microlearning for workplace learning should preferably be limited to one learning objective or skill. The content should be short and focused and capture the essence of what is being taught. The connection to other units in a wider set of units or a course should be clear.
The design should be attractive, because students learn independently. A wide variety of formats are used. Here are some examples of microlearning activities (see also: Andriotis, 2018):

  • reading a text (sentences, short paragraphs);
  • listening to a short podcast;
  • watching a short video clip (animations, simulations);
  • learning with microgames;
  • learning with apps;
  • social/cooperative learning with social media;
  • analyzing images (photos, illustrations, infographics);
  • completing tests and quizzes (micro-assessment to assess progress);
  • writing a reflection on just viewed content;
  • remembering a word, vocabulary, definition or formula;
  • making practical exercises.

Self-evaluation will increase learner control and encourage students to engage in ongoing training activities.

Review the microlearning unit

An advantage of online education courses is that they can be reviewed before they release to real learning situations. in the case of microlearning units, peer reviews can be done by academics or employers.

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