Reimagining Learning in Workplaces: Should You Take Micro-learning Seriously?

Published 28 November 2019

At HCLI, our research suggests that human capital practices can be a sustainable competitive advantage. Through having a strong learning culture, organisations can remain agile, and not only keep pace with change but stay ahead of it.[1]

However, the urgency of work almost always trumps the luxury of learning, as observed by Josh Bersin and Marx Zao-Sanders.[2] While there have been calls to make learning a corporate priority[3] and organisations are responding positively towards lifelong learning, learning often takes a backseat to business priorities and revenue generation.

In LinkedIn’s 2018 Workplace Learning Report, a survey was conducted with 4000 participants globally, including 1,200 talent development professionals. It found that 68% of employees prefer to learn at work, and 49% of employees prefer to learn at the point of need. [4]

When learning is interwoven with our work and is just-in-time (rather than all the time), we can apply or adapt what we have learned more fluently and frequently to our work.

How do we design just-in-time learning in workplaces? More specifically, how can we better design learning solutions and experiences such that learning is embedded “in the flow of work”?[5]

There are many ways to do so, and this article discusses two approaches: reigniting curiosity and making learning fun; and weaving between micro-learning and macro-learning.

Reigniting Curiosity

In workplaces where employees feel safe about asking questions, it can help them generate new ways of thinking, challenge assumptions, and think deeply about issues or traditional ways of doing things. This can lead to creative ideas fueling a more innovative culture in organisations.

As described by John Dewey (1910), “Eagerness for experience, for new and varied contacts, is found where wonder is found. Such curiosity is the only sure guarantee of the acquisition of the primary facts upon which inference must base itself”.[6] When our curiosity is triggered, its first manifestations would be that of a physiological uneasiness, which leads us to use our senses to explore and test.

Guided by an eagerness to make sense of the phenomenon, we may start asking questions. This process spurs learning and allows for an exchange of ideas between various parties. If the question is not immediately addressed, we may continue to entertain it in our mind, carry out some fact-finding and engage in problem-solving.

While asking “what” questions can be helpful in diagnosing an issue or problem, when brainstorming within the workplace, it may be useful to ask “what if” questions, which can open employees’ minds to possibilities. It may be helpful to ask “how might we” questions as well, as it empowers employees to join in conversations on the company’s goals and objectives.

Micro-learning, Macro-outcomes

In today’s fast-paced world, it is challenging to have a learner sit down in one spot, absorb educational material, and remain focused on a topic for hours upon hours. Besides offering macro-learning opportunities such as classroom-based training or accreditation courses for their employees, organisations are introducing micro-learning into their learning and development repertoire.

In current workplaces, microlearning usually takes place via the learning management system or applications. It often involves breaking up learning content into bite-sized chunks. Content of this nature can be made available on multiple devices and platforms and is particularly well-suited for mobile screens. Learning activities can also be designed and delivered through rich media formats and may include real-time or group tasks.

Figure 1 shows how, by weaving macro-learning and micro-learning, learning could be paced.

Figure 1 – Weaving macro-learning and micro-learning – will great learning become the new normal?[7]

Research has shown that micro-learning allows for a higher level of retention of information. The forgetting curve, which originated more than a century ago, from experiments carried out by German psychologist, Hermann Ebbinghaus, depicts that learners often forget what they have learned, sometimes within a short span of time. [8]

Figure 2 – Helping employees retain and apply newly learned information through micro-learning.[9]

Figure 2 above shows how by offering a more manageable quantity of information and introducing them in a timely fashion, the learner can more sustainably retain information and rapidly apply knowledge in practice. Other approaches include:

Spaced Repetition

Another critical aspect of designing micro-learning activities is “spaced repetition”, where the material is learned then reviewed later through activities like quizzes, application questions, and case studies. The more often a learner is asked to recall information on a concept, the longer information about that concept is retained.

Desirable Difficulties

The idea of designing learning activities such that they are “bite-sized” and involve “spaced repetition” coincide with Robert Bjork’s notion of “desirable difficulties”. Where appropriate and timely, introducing a suitable level of difficulty in the learning process can vastly improve long-term retention and make learning more effective.

Higher-Order Thinking and Reflective Thinking Activities

When learners are asked to assess their understanding by working on a higher-order thinking task or reflecting on what they have learned, it would give them time and mental capacity to reflect on what they have done and learned, allowing for greater retention of learning.[10] This would take thinking to a whole new level, and encourage learners to draw inferences, connect to facts or prior knowledge and apply them in other contexts.

Putting both micro-learning and macro-learning into practice takes time and effort, but it’s worthwhile. After all, reimagining a learning culture embraced by all and embedded into the flow of work will eventually reward organisations with the desired results – and perhaps help us stay ahead of the proverbial learning (and forgetting) curve.

Our leadership programmes mix online learning and in-person sessions. Looking for leadership solutions that will have a lasting impact? Find out more about our programmes here.


[1] Munusamy, V. and Jenkins, M. (2019). Human capital leadership: Not “best practices” but “next practices”, retrieved online from on 19 Nov 2019.

[2] Bersin, J., & Zao-Sanders, M. (2019). Making Learning a Part of Everyday Work, Harvard Business Review, retrieved online from on 19 Nov 2019.

[3] Edmondson, A. & Saxberg, Bror (2017). “Putting lifelong learning on the CEO agenda.” McKinsey Quarterly, retrieved online from on 15 Nov 2019.

[4] LinkedIn Learning. (2018). The Rise and Responsibilities of Talent Development in the New Labour Market, 2018 Workplace Learning Report, retrieved online from on 26 Nov 2019.

[5] Bersin, J. (2018). A New Paradigm For Corporate Training: Learning In The Flow of Work, retrieved online from on 26 Nov 2019.

[6] Dewey, J. (1910). How we think. Boston: D.C. Heath & Co.

[7] Bersin, J. (2017). The Distruption of Digital Learning: Ten Things We Have Learned, retrieved online from

[8] Shail M. S. (2019). Using Micro-learning on Mobile Applications to Increase Knowledge Retention and Work Performance: A Review of Literature. Cureus, 11(8), e5307.

[9] Bersin, J. (2017). The Distruption of Digital Learning: Ten Things We Have Learned, retrieved online from

[10] Baumgartner, P. (2013). Educational dimensions of microlearning–towards a taxonomy for microlearning, In Designing Microlearning Experiences–Building up Knowledge in Organisations and Companies. Innsbruck University Press, Innsbruck.

Start your Leadership Journey Today

Let HCLI be your trusted partner to facilitate organisational progression through multi-level leadership development.