How retention measures up with microlearning vs traditional eLearning

Posted by Ethan Woidke,

May 16, 2016

One way to measure the difference between microlearning and traditional eLearning is by retention rates. In other words, how well course participants retain the information learned in the course. Anecdotally, reports on retention rates are strongly in favour of microlearning, but is there anything more scientific?

A number of studies have shown that microlearning does deliver better retention rates than traditional forms of learning that use long form content, such as traditional eLearning. This is a boost to the microlearning industry but more importantly it should give course creators confidence that they are following a proven path, and that what they are doing will deliver better levels of success.

What Research Says About Micro Learning And Retention Rates

Research conducted in 2006 found that people learn more effectively when content is delivered in small pieces. It described this content as being easier to comprehend.

Other, more recent research has made similar findings. In particular, researchers at the Dresden University of Technology in Germany reported in 2015 that microlearning improves the retention of information by 20 percent.

This research also made other interesting findings. It found people who learned through microlearning techniques answered questions 28 percent faster. So, not only did they get the answers right 20 percent more than those who used traditional learning techniques, but they also answered quicker.

Why Retention Rates Are So Good With Microlearning

• Traditional forms of learning that use long-form content (i.e. long learning sessions where learners are expected to digest, understand and remember large amounts of information) do not match with the way people naturally learn

• Long-form content is more difficult for learners as it is harder to maintain motivation levels, concentration and interest

• Microlearning incorporates frequent testing and interactivity. This gives the learner confidence that they have understood what they have been taught. If they discover they have not understood it they can go back over it. Traditional learning using long form content does not give learners this level of feedback, so they are never really sure if they understand the content properly.

In summary, the benefits of micro learning are:

• It suits the way people learn

• It involves active learning

• The learner gets feedback as they go

How To Improve Your Retention Rates

As you can see from the three spotlight benefits mentioned above, microlearning is simply the tool of delivery that achieves good retention rates. In other words you cannot just chop up long-form content into smaller sections and hope that it meets the definition of microlearning and improves your rate of success.

Instead you have to structure your course around microlearning principles. Bite-size chunks of information ordered in a structured way are crucial. You also have to build in frequent interactive elements so that people learn in an active way, and you have to include regular quizzes and questionnaires to give the learner feedback on whether they have properly grasped the content so far.

When you do this, microlearning will improve the retention rates of learners on your courses.