How Long Should Microlearning Actually Take?

Posted by Ethan Woidke,

May 31, 2016

One of the most commonly used descriptions of microlearning is that it is “bite sized”. This phrase is used to demonstrate the fact that the modules, courses, or lessons are broken up into chunks. Users can do one of these bite-sized chunks independent of the rest of the content, i.e. the chunk has a start, middle, and end. The question is, how long should you make bite-sized chunks?

What Is Bite Sized?

There is no hard and fast rule for how long a microlearning bite-sized chunk should be. Some experts agree that they shouldn’t be longer than three minutes, while others talk of modules that take 10 or 15 minutes to complete.

Any of these timescales are considerably shorter than long-form learning, which is often delivered in sessions of one hour or more. So, whether your modules are three minutes or 15 minutes, they still qualify as microlearning. The right length for your course will depend on three main factors – course structure, your learners, and the points you are trying to get across. Let’s take a look at each.

Structure

Breaking the course into bite-sized chunks of learning is only part of microlearning. It is an important part, but just because each of your sections takes five minutes to complete doesn’t mean your course is going to be successful. This is why you can’t simply take a long-form course and chop it up to create a microlearning alternative.

You have to think about how people learn. After all, that is the whole point of microlearning—it is an effective learning tool because it matches content delivery with how our brains work. Therefore, when structuring your course, you have to think about the progression of the learner. What do they need to understand completely before you can move to the next stage? What do they need to have a partial grasp of that can be built on in the future? What is not important?

Once you have this structure in place, you can start building in other crucial microlearning elements, such as interactive features and repetition. The length of each of your bite-sized chunks will start to take shape.

The Learner

How quickly will your fastest learners get through a module? How quickly will your slowest learners get through it? Does this time period fit with their personality, and do they have that amount of time to spare? Will learners think 15 minutes is too much to undertake spontaneously, or will three minutes not be long enough to explain critical points?

These are important questions to ask. For example, if your learners are mostly Millennials, you will probably find that shorter content is better.

The Point

You should only try to deliver one or two crucial points (or takeaways) in each module. Trying to include too much is one of the main reasons for content that is too long. You should stay focused on the point, eliminate waffle, and if in doubt, break the module into two.

You will then have a course that learners can comfortably progress through with modules that only take minutes to complete.