Tag Archive for: microlearning

A few days ago, CLO Magazine published a provocative article describing how elearning provider Grovo has tried to patent the word “microlearning,” applying for registration in October, 2016. The article, and the comments, are a fascinating read.

This is very interesting, and a bad play by Grovo. Many of us in the learning industry have used the term “microlearning” and I’ll bet that a great many are irked by Grovo’s shameless attempt to restrict its use for their commercial benefit.

Here is evidence to put a dagger in any claim that “microlearning” is a specific product attributable to Grovo. On April 9th, 2015 (Long before Grovo’s original application for a patent), numerous people in the learning industry met in a Twitter chat and discussed their perceptions of what microlearning is (my synopsis of the results is available here, along with a link to the actual tweets: https://www.worklearning.com/2015/04/10/twitter-chat-on-microlearning/). Interestingly, Grovo’s name was NEVER mentioned. This was one and a half years before Grovo applied for a patent.

Here is an even earlier communication in 2015 about microlearning on a blog post from Tom Spiglanin, again with no mention of Grovo.

Here is an even earlier blog post from 2014 on microlearning by Learnnovators, again with no mention of Grovo.

Here is another piece of data that shows that Grovo considered microlearning as a general concept, not as proprietary to them: An article written by their top learning professional, Alex Khurgin, published on August 25, 2015, clearly shows what Grovo thought of microlearning. “The broadest and most useful definition of microlearning is ‘learning, and applying what one has learned, in small, focused steps.'” This is more than one year before Grovo applied for a patent.


Full disclosure: I have authored my own definition of microlearning (https://www.worklearning.com/2017/01/13/definition-of-microlearning/). Several years ago, Grovo paid me for a couple hours of consulting. Grovo management and I once talked about me working for them. I have referred to Grovo previously on my subscription learning blog (here and here).


Let me add that others are more than welcome to use my definition of microlearning, modify it, or ignore it.

I’ve looked for a good definition of microlearning, but because I couldn’t find one, I’ve created my own.

Microlearning involves the use of:

“Relatively short engagements in learning-related activities—typically ranging from a few seconds up to 20 minutes (or up to an hour in some cases)—that may provide any combination of content presentation, review, practice, reflection, behavioral prompting, performance support, goal reminding, persuasive messaging, task assignments, social interaction, diagnosis, coaching, management interaction, or other learning-related methodologies.”

Microlearning has five utilization cases:

  1. Course Replacement
    Provides training content and learning support, often as a replacement for classroom training or long-form elearning.
  2. Course Augmentation
    Provides after-course or within-course streams of short learning interactions to reinforce, strengthen, or deepen learning.
  3. Retrieval Support
    Provides retrieval practice, spaced repetitions, and reminding to ensure knowledge and skills can be remembered when needed.
  4. Just-In-Time (Moment-of-Need) Learning
    Provides information when learners need it to perform a task they are working on.
  5. Behavioral Prompts
    Provides action nudges, task assignments, or performance support to directly prompt and support behavior.

If it’s not obvious, there are clearly overlaps in these five use cases, and furthermore, a single microlearning thread may utilize more than one of the methodologies suggested. For example, when using microlearning as a replacement for a standard elearning course, you might also consider retrieval support and behavioral prompts in your full learning design.

Microlearning, the unruly kid sister of subscription learning, is apparently a topic of great interest for associations, according to Association Learning + Technology 2016, a report published by Tagoras, Inc. (http://www.tagoras.com/) and sponsored by YM Learning (formerly Digital Ignite).

Click here to see their press release…

Here's another article on Microlearning, this time from MemeBurn.

  • http://memeburn.com/2015/07/why-microlearning-beats-traditional-learning-patterns/




Alex Khurgin, Director of Learning and Creative at Grovo (a Microlearning Vendor), says that Microlearning is good for enterprise learning because it builds alignment with organizational goals, it meets the needs of today’s learners for shorter and shorter learning nuggets, and it’s cheaper than longer learning initiatives.

You can read his article at the Chief Learning Officer website. It’s worth the read as further evidence that vendors are hot to push for shortened learning nuggets.

Of course, microlearning is more potent when it is intentionally threaded over time, utilizing the scientifically-backed principles of spacing, retrieval practice, and feedback.

The buzz is in the air…There is definitely something changing in our industry…With many recent discussions of microlearning, subscription learning, nano learning, and the like, it seems the marketplace is being readied for a pivot to a different type of learning…

In a webinar today, David Mallon, Senior Vice President at Deloitte, shared how Bersin by Deloitte sees the future of the learning industry.

In a nutshell, they’re pushing the idea of “Continuous Learning.”


As you can see from the diagram, they see almost any learning modality as a possible leverage point for continuous learning. To be clear, they are not embracing subscription learning, they are arguing that we in L&D need to engage learners continuously to maximize learning.

As part of the same presentation, Carol Leaman, CEO of Axonify did share examples of subscription learning, though she didn’t call it that. You can see the Axonify learning model below. Notice how spaced repetitions and retrieval practice are backed into it.

The bottom line is that the industry is beginning to recognize the importance of supporting remembering,  application, and on-the-job learning — and subscription learning is a new tool in the toolbox.

Some of you may be interested in the Learning Landscape Model, which highlights the importance of remembering, prompting, application, and on-the-job learning.



Microlearning and its more sophisticated cousin, subscription learning, are beginning to gain acceptance by regulators and those who credential.

Until recently, many regulators and credentialors would only accept traditional classroom and elearning courses as acceptable proof of competence or learning. No more.

As reported yesterday on the AccountingToday website, the "National Association of State Boards of Accountancy and the American Institute of CPAs are proposing to revise the standards for continuing professional education for accountants." More specifically, they are proposing that microlearning (or what they're calling nano-learning) be deemed an acceptable learning experience.

The Ohio Society of CPA's (OSCPA) got the ball rolling on this, quickly followed by Maryland's CPA group. OSCPA president and CEO Scott D. Wiley, quoted by AccountingToday back in March said, “The nature of professional education is changing…Studies show micro learning can provide the quick, focused education that CPAs need to stay current in the market place.”

If the stereotypically-stodgy accounting profession is credentialing microlearning courses, other organizations are likely to soon follow.

Evidence for the popularity of microlearning just keeps adding up…


I was recently interviewed for a German audience on subscription learning.

You can read the interview here in German.

Here is a rough American English translation:

Will Thalheimer as Interviewed by Andrea Sattler

What is subscription learning (how does it work, what topics does it cover, who is it designed for/ what’s the target group…)?

Thanks Andrea for inviting me! I’m delighted to talk about subscription learning because I think it offers us, as elearning developers, a powerful new tool in our elearning toolbox.

As I wrote on the Subscription Learning website, Subscription Learning, as its name implies, provides an intermittent stream of learning-related interactions to those who are subscribed. These learning-related interactions–called “nuggets”–can involve a great variety of learning-related events, including content presentation, diagnostics, scenario-based questions, job aids, reflection questions, assignments, discussions, etc. Nuggets are short, usually presented in less than five minutes. Nuggets are intentionally scheduled over time to support learning, often utilizing research-based findings related to the spacing effect. Learners subscribe (or are subscribed) to one or more series of learning nuggets, called “threads.” Learning threads can be predesigned, selecting nuggets based on anticipated learner needs or they can be dynamically created based on learner performance.

Why do you recommend the use of “nugget learning”? What is it based on (e.g., are there any studies that prove that learning in short sequences is most successful…)?

Subscription learning is not new, of course. People have been learning from the content of their magazine subscriptions for over a century. Apprentices learned their trades by working alongside master craftsmen, and getting short doses of instruction spread out over months and years.

The subscription learning idea occurred to me when I was researching the spacing effect in the learning research. The spacing effect shows that repetitions of content are much better remembered when they are spread over time. Every university student knows what happens when they cram repetitions to prepare for exams. The do well on the exam, but they soon forget everything. The spacing effect demonstrates the opposite finding. When we spread learning over time, we remember more and we remember for longer periods of time. Interestingly, the spacing effect (also called spaced practice, distributed practice, etc.) is one of the most robust findings in the learning research, but one of the least utilized in the workplace learning-and-performance field.

My research-to-practice report details over 100 studies from scientific refereed journals.

In addition to the spacing effect, there are other reasons that subscription learning is effective:

  1. Learners can engage learning nuggets on their own timeframes.
  2. Learners can keep their learning easily accessible in memory.
  3. Learners can relate their learning more easily to workplace issues.
  4. Learners are more likely to integrate their learning with workplace cues.
  5. Learners can be prompted to actions while at work.
  6. Learning is often more palatable in shorter chunks.

How do learners benefit from this kind of learning? (if this is not already included in the answers to the above questions)

Learners benefit because they don’t have to sit through long and tedious classroom sessions or through similarly long elearning courses. They benefit because—if the subscription-learning is well designed—the learning will actually stick. It will be remembered. Learners benefit because the learning will be easier to integrate into their work.

How can subscription learning be integrated into corporate learning?

What’s fantastic is that we have arrived at a time and place where subscription learning can be utilized through both simple and complex technologies. Subscription learning can be as simple as a string of emails or as complicated as sophisticated decision scenarios triggered through software that highlights new learning nuggets on one’s mobile phone or laptop.

Subscription learning can be a standalone learning intervention or as an adjunct to traditional learning courses (or elearning). It can be part of a run-of-the-mill training session or part of a strategically-important initiative led by a company’s CEO.

Do you have any experience with subscription learning in companies? If so, can you give us an example of how this is used in the company, and what experiences they have had so far?

Although I am now a dedicated learning consultant, I once led a leadership-development product line and taught leadership to managers at large corporations. After my courses, I would keep in touch with my learners through email over the next several months, sending engaging and entertaining emails that reinforced key learning points. I still remember one comment from a learner that reinforced the value. “Hey Will, I didn’t read every email you sent, but the one’s I read, I really did get value out of. They reinforced what we learned in the training. Thanks!”

Subscription learning is erupting everywhere. Last year, a subscription-learning program used by people all over the world to learn languages won Apple’s App of the Year. Verizon, a giant telecom company in the United States is using subscription learning in many ways. A large financial services company used subscription learning to prepare their sales folks.

Any Final Thoughts?

Subscription Learning is here to stay. But here’s the thing. We’re just getting started with it—we have a lot more to learn. And I don’t want to be accused of adding to the hype cycle. Subscription learning, although it is an incredibly powerful tool that will transform the elearning landscape, won’t replace traditional elearning. We’ll still have relatively long elearning engagements. But in addition, we’ll now have another tool in our toolbox.

The key to success for organizations who want to use it today will be to follow research-based learning design recommendations and find innovative vendors who can have already captured lessons learned. It’s imperative on us all to begin experimenting and learning how to use the subscription-learning approach.

Researchers at MIT have coined the term "Wait-Learning" — learning at a time when a person would otherwise be waiting, and hence wasting time… Their research work involves foreign-language learning.

They surmised that instant messaging provided an excellent application to test whether a program could enable wait-learning for language vocabulary. Often while chatting, conversations feels asynchronous; the person who just sent a message waits for a reply.

They built a program, called WaitChatter, that works in Google Chat. It's an experimental program, only able to teach Spanish and French vocabulary to English speakers. They experimented with WaitChatter and got positive results, which they published online in an ACM publication.

Here's what the authors said about the amount of learning:

"In just two weeks of casual usage, participants were on average able to recall 57 new words, equivalent to approximately four words per day."

TechCrunch has a nice article explaining how WaitChatter works.

WaitChatter is not ready for prime time. It's an experimental program and it only works in Chrome and only if you disable Google Hangouts and go back to Google Chat. Still, several concepts about WaitChatter and the concept of wait-learning are intriguing:

  1. Wait-Learning, though not an original concept, is a good one…We learning professionals ought to figure out how to maximize efficiencies in this way. Of course, we'll want to make sure that the additional learning doesn't compromise the main task. We know multitasking is illusory, often hurting one task or another, so we'll need to be careful.
  2. Embedding learning opportunities in other applications may enable such efficiencies, if we do it carefully.
  3. Part of the vocabulary learned was learned based on the words that came up in the chat. So for example, if the word "dog" came up in the chat, WordChatter might focus on the Spanish equivalent "el perro." We know from the general research on learning that alignment between the learning context and the performance context produce learning and remembering benefits, and the authors cite research that such contextual learning benefits language learners as well.


Note: Pilot is Over… Post kept for historical reasons only…


Organizations Wanted to Pilot Leadership-Development Subscription Learning!!

I am looking for organizations who are interested in piloting subscription learning as a tool to aid in developing their managers and energizing their senior management’s strategic initiatives.

To read more about the benefits and possibilities for subscription learning and leadership development, read my article posted on the ATD (Association for Talent Development) website.

Potential Benefits

  • Reinforce concepts learned to ensure remembering and application.
  • Drive management behaviors through ongoing communications.
  • Utilize the scientifically-verified spacing effect to boost learning.
  • Enable dialogue between your senior leaders and your developing managers.
  • Inculcate organizational values through scenario-based reflection.
  • Prompt organizational initiatives through your management cadre.
  • Engage in organizational learning, promoting cycles of reinforcement.
  • Utilize and pilot test new technologies, boosting motivation.
  • Utilize the power of subscription learning before your competitors do.

Potential Difficulties

  • Pilot efforts may face technical difficulties and unforeseen obstacles.

Why Will Thalheimer and Work-Learning Research, Inc.?

  • Experienced leadership-development trainer
  • Previously ran leadership-development product line (Leading for Business Results)
  • Leader in the use of scenario-based questions
  • Experienced in using subscription learning
  • Devoted to evidence-based practices
  • Extensive experience in practical use of learning research

Why Now?

  • Subscription-learning tools are available.
  • Mobile-learning is gaining traction.
  • Substantial discounts for pilot organizations.

Next Steps!!

  • Sorry, the pilot is over…