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Morsels of learning: about micro-learning and gamification

March 20, 2015 • gal
Why goldfish? because that’s the attention span of the modern human.

What is micro-learning?

I like to compare it to “micro-eating” – those diets where you are supposed to only eat tiny morsels of food throughout the day, hoping to sense satiety all day long.

Similarly, micro learning breaks learning into small bites, replacing or complementing long-form training and learning. It uses small, well-planned units, to deliver training and learning to users, when and where they want it.

Micro learning is a new kind of curriculum that is accessible anytime and anywhere. Unsure what it is?  Think of learning videos on youtube, TedX or the Khan Academy.   From the organizational point of view, micro-learning can simplify learning and training. For the trainers it is often easier to create small chunks of training, that can be accessed any time and from anywhere.

A new curriculum of autonomy

One of the benefits of micro-learning is that it gives learners control over what they learn and when they access it. As a result of the ability to choose the time and place of learning, the employee gets a sense of autonomy and self-directed learning, which is directly tied to an increase in motivation and engagement.

Additionally, the choice of micro-learning units is better for information retention, since most often micro-learning is accessed by users when they are in need of a certain piece of information, and not as part of a more rote-based training curriculum.

Learning for (ultra) short attention spans

As millennials enter the workforce and as the workforce’s attention span is shortening (regardless of generation) the way we pay attention is changing. While some people claim  humanity’s attention will soon become all too similar to the attention of your average goldfish, the internet, smart phones and the digital age have no doubted changed how people pay attention and for how long they sustain it.  It also affects how they expect to consume information. If a web site shows them a 90 seconds-long video to explain a mobile application, they expect all “learning” materials to come in a similar form and length.

By accessing short videos, presentations or other training/learning materials, people can spend several minutes learning and then go on with their lives. Within the workplace, micro-learning means that employees can access micro-learning throughout the day, to cover certain topics they need access to or as part of an enterprise gamification implementation for sales, customer service, knowledge management and more.

Just in time (micro) learning

Just in time learning – delivered at a point where the information is needed – can be used to explain how new product features affect a sales solution, how to solve a certain customer service or technical support issue and more. Delivered at a point of need – just in time micro-learning can and should in integrated into sales, customer service and knowledge management.

The nature of the digital age also means that access to micro-learning can be tracked and assessed. Using gamification, such tracking and assessment can be used to drive employees to use micro-learning in certain situations, by driving a behavioral change: more frequent access to micro-learning, by recognizing micro-learning activities and using game mechanics to drive them.

Gamification and micro-learning: engagement, completion, retention and application

At Gameffective, we’ve started using gamification and micro-learning a while ago.

We first started thinking about it when we thought of how to keep the under-performing engaged in the game. Showing someone they didn’t do well compared to their peers and even compared to their personal or last week targets is challenging. Once you do it, you still want them to come back, and it is best if they come back because they want to, not because they are expected to.

We wanted to give employees a sense of accomplishment nevertheless, while ensuring they will do better next time.  Giving them empty “feel-good” points would undermine our goal. Then we understood the power of just in time micro-learning. We began to offer micro-learning within the gamification application, by tying into LMS or other systems.

Let’s say a sales rep didn’t do well – what if we could direct him/her to the relevant micro-learning materials? What if we could track completion of those micro-learning materials and then give the employee the kudos for completing them? What if we could incorporate tests or other tasks to check retention, or track whether that micro-learning episode was applied later?

Gamification can

  • Track the use of micro-learning and prove it took place
  • Encourage the use of micro-learning through calls to action
  • Provide much needed recognition for micro-learning

Badges: gamification recognition for elearning

Two of the important “side effects” of gamification are communication and recognition; two qualities that shouldn’t be underestimated (you can read about additional surprising benefits of gamification here). Communicating completion of micro-learning is tied with recognition through gamification. It gives the employee the satisfaction of knowing their learning is recognized and that it constitutes a form of social proof (also known as informational social influence, is a psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior for a given situation).

Badges, often derided for being too simplistic in many gamification applications, can be a great addition to micro-learning since they are a symbolic representation of skills accomplishments or interests, serving as a communication between the employee, his peers, managers and the entire organization. By acquiring badges employees indicate achievement, and communicate their skills and interests.

Other forms of game mechanics are completion bars – like those used by linkedin and others.

More effective game mechanics for micro-learning gamification involve using micro-learning as a prerequisite to acquiring a status or entering a contest, for instance, requiring micro-learning to be able to “enter” a contest leaderboard.  Other forms of micro-learning within gamification is using contextual learning that is triggered by external events. For instance, if my customer retention score is low, I will be prompted to undergo micro-learning that consists of retention simulation practice.


Micro-learning is often the best option to cover many training needs. Gamification takes it out of the realm of training-only and can combine it and drive its adoption in many usage scenarios over a wide range of enterprise applications.

This brings us to the next post in this “micro” series – micro feedback and micro self reflection… we hope to write about those soon.

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