Making Microlearning Part of Your Business Model

By Jeff Cobb.  Last Updated on August 31, 2023

Photo of laptop with books on shelf on screen - microlearning concept

If you pay any attention to the world of corporate learning and development you know that “microlearning” has been one of the biggest buzzwords for a few years now. It’s also a big opportunity for course creators who want to stand out in the market and deliver real value.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the opportunity and how to capitalize on it.

What is microlearning?

Go searching and you will find all sorts of problematic definitions of it, but I think of it as the minimum effective dose to achieve a specific, targeted learning outcome.

Many other definitions will stress that it is “short,” some even going so far as to say it can’t be more than five or ten minutes (usually with reference to dubious claims about millennial attention spans).

But short is relative. Yes, it will generally be much shorter than traditional courses and seminars, but what’s more important from my perspective is that it is concise and narrowly targeted.

Long before microlearning was cool, for example, I signed up for a subscription series from Alan Weiss (aka the Million Dollar Consultant) called Common Sense Consulting (unfortunately no longer available). As a subscriber, I got a five-minute video each week for a year addressing a very specific issue that consultants tend to encounter.

For example, one week Alan might address “How to Start a Meeting.” Another week he would address “How to Outmaneuver Large Firms.” The content each week was very practical with lessons that it was possible to apply right way in my consulting practice. It was one of the better learning experiences I have participated in as an adult.

Screen shot from opening of an Alan Weiss Common Sense Consulting video
Common Sense Consulting delivered concise, targeted videos weekly over the course of a year.

Now, many microlearning definitions will also imply that all microlearning is video-based. My Alan Weiss example happened to be, but video is definitely not the only option.

I have more than once, for example, signed up for multi-part e-mail “courses” that basically amount to a brief e-mail every day or week addressing a very specific aspect of, say, Internet marketing. (Copyblogger, for example, was masterful at this in its early days.)

Internet Marketing for Smart People - microlearning before microlearning was cool
Copyblogger leveraged e-mail-based microlearning as an effective form of engagement and marketing before microlearning was cool.

Key Microlearning Opportunities for Edupreneurs

The examples above point to three key ways you might consider making microlearning part of your business model.

Attracting Customers

First, it can be a powerful approach to building your audience. A multi-part e-mail series, set of brief videos, or collection of targeted “how-to” documents can be powerful “lead magnets” to motivate people to sign up for your e-mail list (by far your most effective tool for marketing your educational offerings).

The key is that the content you offer as part of this approach is actually educational – i.e., it is designed to help the recipient acquire knowledge or skills that will solve a specific problem. When you do this, microlearning not only attracts customers to you, it also demonstrates the tremendous value you have to offer and primes your prospects to purchase your paid products.

Delivering Your Core Product

As the Alan Weiss example above suggests, microlearning can be a really effective approach to designing and developing an offering. You might decide to create a bundle of micro experiences that you make available all at once, but I’m a big fan of the subscription model that Alan used for a number of reasons:

  • You don’t have to have it ready to go all at once, which means you can start selling and generating revenue sooner. (If you are bogged down or overwhelmed with trying to create a full-blown course, this can be just the ticket!)
  • You can adapt and adjust your plans for future microlearning modules over time as you get feedback from your students
  • You can often charge more. Psychologically, the same content delivered over an extended period of time often seems more valuable …
  •  … and, from a learning perspective, it often is more valuable. When learning is delivered in short bursts, learners are usually better able to fit it into the flow of their work, digest it, and apply it. And, the concise format also increase the likelihood of learners going back to review materials (behavior you should certain encourage as part of your delivery strategy)

Longer Term Engagement and Impact

Microlearning is also incredibly effective as a way to follow up with your customers to reinforce learning and keep learners engaged with you as source of education – one of the best ways to ensure that they will purchase again from you in the future.

Even more importantly (but completely related), in my opinion, it helps make learning stick and ensure that your offerings will have real impact. Again, e-mail is a key tool for this approach. Take a look at how Google uses “whisper” e-mails as a form of microlearning – potentially a great model for following up with your learners.

Screen shot of Google Whisper Courses Microlearning E-mails -
Google use “whisper” e-mails to create microlearning that sticks.

I’ve argued many times before that impact is increasingly important for long term success in selling online courses or any other form of education. If you don’t move the dial – i.e., help the learner achieve the desired learning outcomes – you simply won’t get repeat customers and your business will decline over time. While not a silver bullet, microlearning can certainly help address this issue when done right.

Beyond the Microlearning Buzz

As I noted at the beginning, microlearning has been very trendy lately, but that’s no reason to pursue it. A much better reason is that it simply makes a great deal of sense as an approach to marketing your business effectively, delivering high impact learning experiences, and staying engaged with your customers over time.

Best of all, if you are already engaged on selling online courses, you almost certainly already have what you need to create and deliver microlearning. All of the major platforms – like Thinkific, Kajabi, and others listed here – can support a microlearning approach.

And, arguably, you don’t even need a specialized platform. (Alan Weiss just used e-mail and unlisted YouTube postings to deliver his content once people had paid for it through a simple e-commerce transaction.)

So, I encourage you to consider microlearning as part of your business model going forward. And, if you do pursue it (or already are), please comment and let me know how it goes.


P.S. – Here are a few additional resources you might find helpful:

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