Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

9 May 2017

Clarifying Microlearning

Clark @ 8:05 AM

I was honored to learn that a respected professor of educational technology liked my definition of micro-learning, such that he presented it as a recent conference.  He asked if I still agreed with it, and I looked back at what I’d written more recently. What I found was that I’d suggested some alternate interpretations, so I thought it worthwhile to be absolutely clear about it.

So, the definition he cited was:

Microlearning is a small, but complete, learning experience, layered on top of the task learners are engaged in, designed to help learners learn how to perform the task.

And I agree with this, with a caveat. In the article, I’d said that it could also be a small complete learning experience, period. My clarification on this is that those are unlikely, and the definition he cited was the most likely, and likely most valuable.

So, I’ve subsequently said (and elaborated on the necessary steps):

What I really think microlearning could and should be is for spaced learning.

Here I’m succumbing to the hype, and trying to put a positive spin on microlearning. Spaced learning is a good thing, it’s just not microlearning. And microlearning really isn’t helping them perform the task in the moment (which is a good thing too), but instead leveraging that moment to also extend their understanding.

No, I like the original definition, where we layer learning on top of a task, leveraging the context and requiring the minimal content to take a task and make it a learning opportunity. That, too, is a good thing. At least I think so. What do you think?


  1. Los microaprendizaje los entiendo como micromundos reales y contextualizados que ayudan al desarrollo de capacidades, destrezas y actitudes de los estudiantes, siempre bajo la idea de conseguir un aprendizaje personalizado que a través del valor añadido que nos proporciona esta personalización (diversidad-inclusividad), nos hace llegar al social learning.

    Juan Domingo Farnos Miro (@juandoming)

    Comment by Juan Domingo Farnos Miro — 9 May 2017 @ 9:21 AM

  2. I’m wondering what the the difference is between the first definition “Microlearning is a small, but complete, learning experience, layered on top of the task learners are engaged in, designed to help learners learn how to perform the task.” and just-in-time learning? Is there a distinct difference that I’m missing? Or is microlearning an iteration or evolution of just-in-time learning? And is microlearning the same as drip learning?

    I think we need a new taxonomy of learning and teaching theories and methods :-)


    Comment by Jamie Billingham — 10 May 2017 @ 9:35 AM

  3. Jamie, it is ‘just in time learning’, with a caveat: most JITL is really performance support, and there is no learning outcome likely (nor necessary). Again, that’s a ‘good thing’, it’s just not learning. I think drip learning is spaced learning, and that (to me) is different than micro-learning. And I’m trying to make sense of things from a cognitive perspective, but I’m fine if we rename things. Er, as long as we make the important conceptual distinctions ;).

    Comment by Clark — 10 May 2017 @ 6:10 PM

  4. Thanks Clark,

    Yes, it’s the differences that matter :-) It was recently suggested to me that the distinction between education and training was not necessary. So now I’m noticing conversations that relate as I build a taxonomy in my head. It sounds like JITL is a training method that would have perhaps a single learning objectives and micro-learning – may be – closer to the education end of the continuum of training – education because it is designed based on learning outcomes with each micro-learning object part of a full curriculum. Does that sound close?


    Comment by Jamie Billingham — 11 May 2017 @ 10:28 AM

  5. Jamie, I see it maybe slightly differently. I see education/training as a continuum on the target context: training is very specific, education is more general. E.g. you train to operate a machine, you are educated to understand how to think like a mathematician. So to me, JITL can be either (depends on how far you want to transfer; are we wrapping around hospital cleanliness requirements, or around a negotiation). Does that make sense?

    Comment by Clark — 11 May 2017 @ 3:28 PM

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