Microlearning Explained

If you’re new to Practicing Excellence, you may notice that we champion a unique approach to skill-building that’s tailor-made for busy clinicians. Our approach has delivered outcomes for our partners through developing and applying skills that are derived from evidence, are immediately actionable, scalable to every care team member, and require five minutes or less a week. The technique behind “five minutes a week” is called microlearning, and it’s something that most of the Fortune 500 use to train their workforces. It packages critical knowledge, skills, and behaviors into tiny bites done and applied longitudinally and synchronously across an organization. So let’s dive into microlearning as a development approach and how it might fit the modern clinician’s overwhelming time demands. 

What is microlearning?

According to the Association for Talent Development, microlearning is “teaching or coaching in the most efficient and effective manner possible through short pieces of content.”1 We all are intimately familiar with the traditional learning approach since most of us have been immersed in it for decades. Think of any classroom you’ve sat in or any online training course you’ve taken. You receive copious amounts of information over hours, days, and weeks, and most often it’s forgotten quickly, especially if it’s not immediately applied. The best example of this is learning a language. I’m sure many of us took a foreign language class during college, but how much do you really remember? For many, it’s very little to none at all.

Contrast this with being in a foreign country and having Google Translator in your pocket to help you quickly learn keywords and phrases right when you need them, to order food, or ask for directions. You are learning “at the moment of application,” which helps you perform in the moment (getting what you want to eat or drink) as well as dramatically increases the likelihood that you’ll remember what you’ve learned. 

This isn’t just a theory. In a study of individuals (ranging from 23 to 60 years old) learning a new language, the adults who utilized a microlearning-based apps retained 20% more vocabulary than those who didn’t2. This success comes from easily digestible content that microlearning training promotes. Rather than overwhelming your clinicians or nurses with healthcare training courses that last for a few days to a week, taking the same information and breaking it into smaller, easy-to-understand chunks gives them a better chance of learning, storing, and using the training provided to them.

How is microlearning used in healthcare?

The piecemeal content also makes learning far more accessible. It’s no secret that the day of a physician or nurse is already busy; each day comes with various duties and requirements, all of which need a prompt, effective, and thoughtful response. Adding another hour simply for coaching and/or microlearning training would only spread them thinner and lead to increased burnout. Microlearning allows for the same benefit from coaching while greatly diminishing the burden it puts on individuals.

Whether it is before meeting a patient or during your morning commute, there is a chance to learn whenever there is a spare five minutes. The beauty of this is that it’s on-demand – if a clinician finds that they are struggling to manage demanding patients, they can use the Clinician Experience Project (CEP) app to find a relevant tip to help them in the moment. Similarly, a nurse working to achieve an ideal work-life balance can use the Nursing Experience Project (NEP) app to find information that other nurses have found helpful in similar situations. Instead of forcing a training program on our health care workers, we use microlearning videos to empower them to utilize technology and information as they see fit. 

But so far, we’ve only made a claim. The next section explores how our microlearning method provides measurable benefits for our clients.

What is the purpose of microlearning?

When health care professionals are leaving the industry in droves, meeting them where they are at is a significant priority. Providing development to fuel their success and enrich their experience is essential to the retention of our exhausted clinical talent. Microlearning provides just that.

In a virtual roundtable last fall, Michael Six, Executive Director of the Patient Experience and Clinician Learning at SCL Health, shared the results from implementing CEP’s Ambulatory Patient Experience (APX) Program in multiple primary care clinics. Over the course of a year, SCL Health witnessed a 70% participation from their physicians, a far greater number than earlier coaching attempts.

Of those who participated, physicians’ Press Ganey scores (a patient experience metric) improved significantly over their peers and other health care groups in the area, which is quite an accomplishment as SCL Health is in one of the most competitive areas in the country for Press Ganey metrics. As for their health care teams as a whole, SCL Health clinics that implemented APX scored more favorably in team unity, likeliness to recommend to other patients, and their overall assessment rating than clinics that didn’t use the program3.

Developing people to connect with patients, collaborate with each other, and lift up others are skills that can and have transformed the experience for care team members and patients alike. That is why we are dedicated to creating and sustaining products that complement the work-life of clinicians and nurses. They deserve all the benefits of skilled, research-driven coaching but in a delivery system that understands and works well in their busy lives, and we have found that five minutes a week will do just that.  



1 What is Microlearning? (n.d.). Retrieved December 23, 2021, from https://www.td.org/talent-development-glossary-terms/what-is-microlearning

2 Beaudin, J. S., Intille, S. S., Munguia Tapia, E., Rockinson, R., & Morris, M. E. (2007). Context-Sensitive Microlearning of Foreign Language Vocabulary on a Mobile Device. In B. Schiele, A. K. Dey, H. Gellersen, B. de Ruyter, M. Tscheligi, R. Wichert, E. Aarts, & A. Buchmann (Eds.), Ambient Intelligence (Vol. 4794, pp. 55–72). Springer Berlin Heidelberg. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-540-76652-0_4

3 Excellence, P. (2021, November 29). Webinar Recap: Michael Six shares how SCL Health improved Press Ganey Patient Experience Metrics. Practicing Excellence. https://practicingexcellence.com/2021/11/29/event-recap-michael-six-shares-how-scl-health-improved-press-ganey-patient-experience-metrics/

Demarco, C., & Toronto, U. of. (n.d.). Research suggests shorter study periods lead to better recall. Retrieved December 23, 2021, from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2017-02-shorter-periods-recall.html

Wang, C., Bakhet, M., Roberts, D., Gnani, S., & El-Osta, A. (2020). The efficacy of microlearning in improving self-care capability: A systematic review of the literature. Public Health, 186, 286–296. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.puhe.2020.07.007

Sirwan Mohammed, G., Wakil, K., & Sirwan Nawroly, S. (2018). The Effectiveness of Microlearning to Improve Students’ Learning Ability. International Journal of Educational Research Review, 3(3), 32–38. https://doi.org/10.24331/ijere.415824

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