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E-learning trends: Is Nanolearning or Microlearning more effective?

5 min reading time

Using an e-learning platform opens up L&D initiatives to a broader, more diverse range of content types, lessons and courses – meaning organisations can afford to be more creative and flexible with their learning programmes. With a broad spectrum of content creation options, lessons and courses can be adapted to suit a variety of learning styles and preferences. As the way in which we consume media continues to evolve, being able to diversify e-learning content has never been more important. Most recently, we have seen a trend towards consuming media through short bursts of content such as 30-second videos and as a result, many organisations are incorporating microlearning and/or nanolearning lessons into their L&D strategy. Not sure what these e-learning trends entail? Keep reading to find out.


What is microlearning?

Microlearning breaks down complex topics or lessons into small, digestible bite-sized learning. Microlearning content typically takes under fifteen minutes to consume, making it much more efficient than ‘traditional’ forms of learning – such as hour-long lectures or seminars.

The purpose of microlearning is not simply to divide content into multiple smaller lessons, but to pick out and condense the most crucial content so that it can all be consumed in one self-contained bite-sized lesson. Microlearning makes it possible for a learner to achieve their learning objective by assimilating essential information from one lesson in a short space of time, rather than relying on time-consuming lesson types such as drawn-out lectures.


What is nanolearning?

Much like microlearning, nanolearning looks to instil knowledge or skills training in one short burst. However, nanolearning is even more concise – typically taking under five minutes to consume rather than fifteen.

While nanolearning is similar to microlearning in the sense that it serves as a self-contained, single-objective learning module, content is more targeted with refined pieces of information. As nanolearning content is so brief, it is most commonly used for revision or refresher courses to aid learners when they revisit materials and topics that they have already studied.


Both microlearning and nanolearning serve the same overall purpose of condensing information into bite-sized chunks, making the learning process more efficient and less time-consuming and onerous.

Why use microlearning and nanolearning?

Appeal to a younger audience

Younger generations of workers and learners rely on social media platforms like TikTok or Twitter to stay up to date with the latest news and trends. These platforms consist of short videos that typically last between 30 seconds and 3 minutes or short text snippets of 60 words or less. As a result, younger audience members respond better to shorter pieces of content. In fact, Gen Z audiences typically have an attention span of just 8 seconds, meaning microlearning and nanolearning are the best methods for ensuring younger learners retain important information.

microlearning and nanolearning for gen z workers

Nanolearning videos, much like TikTok or Instagram reels, can be designed to squeeze all necessary information into a short, engaging and interesting clip that lasts between 30 seconds and 5 minutes. And organisations looking to further appeal to a younger audience can use the mobile learning functionality of their LMS to deliver these videos via smartphones, once again replicating the social media platforms that Gen Z learners enjoy using.


Reduced learning fatigue

Long gone are the days when organisations relied on traditional, lecture-style lessons to upskill and train their learners. Lectures that last several hours can result in learning fatigue, as attendees ‘switch off’ after a period of time and no longer absorb the information that is being relayed to them. This can also be true for e-learning courses that must be carried out in one go; if a course is made up of multiple lessons or chapters, learners could once again find themselves clicking through content without truly paying attention.

58% of employees prefer to learn or train at their own speed and both microlearning and nanolearning give learners the opportunity to do just that. Rather than risking learning fatigue by completing lengthy mandatory training sessions, learners can define their own training schedule by completing smaller, more manageable lessons and revisiting content as many times as they need to get the best out of an e-learning module.


Focussed learning

A 2020 workplace report found that 49% of learners said they don’t have time to learn at work. Many employees simply cannot afford to make L&D a priority due to busy schedules and heavy workloads. Any organisation will know that L&D is an essential contributor to the growth and development of a business or company and so finding ways to ensure training is completed by all employees is a top priority.

Microlearning and nanolearning are the perfect solutions as learners can complete training in short bursts, scheduling 5-10 minutes of training at a time – without sacrificing the quality and effectiveness of the content they’re consuming as lessons can be targeted, focussed and concise. Additionally, this type of training is perfect for employees in need of quick and efficient upskilling.


Increased knowledge retention

Research shows that an average learner forgets 70% of what they learned within 24 hours and 90% of what they learned in a week if they don’t make an effort to retain it. When learners have completed longer training courses and lessons, revisiting the same content in order to boost knowledge retention can simply take up too much time. Nanolearning modules can be created to serve as quick refresher courses so that learners can ensure they retain information without having to complete the entire training process again. Additionally, microlearning content can be made up of short quizzes and gamified assessments – designed to test a learner’s knowledge base and ensure information has been retained.


Save time and costs

Researcher Robyn Defelice determined that it takes an average of 55 hours to develop the average instructor-led online/virtual module of 25 minutes in length. While this isn’t a problem for larger organisations with the additional resources to create their own content or purchase content from a third-party distributor, for smaller organisations this can prove to be an issue if large amounts of time are spent on creating e-learning content when other tasks need to take priority. With microlearning and nanolearning, content is easier and quicker to produce - saving on costs and improving the ROI of e-learning content.

microlearning and nanolearning knowledge retention

The limitations of microlearning and nanolearning

The lesson types and media formats that makeup microlearning and nanolearning typically consist of short snippets of text, images, infographics, short videos, audio clips and gamified lessons. Whilst these lesson types are fun, engaging and effective, not all learning can be conveyed this way.

Some subject matter simply can’t be condensed into bite-sized content as it requires a deeper exploration and in-depth analysis to ensure that learners fully understand what is being conveyed to them. In this case, longer e-learning courses and lessons are best suited.

Using an e-learning platform such as the Totara Learn LMS allows L&D teams to successfully convey longer form learning content in the most engaging formats, using lesson types such as situation training or blogs. Due to the nature of online learning, learners can take their time if they wish by learning at their own pace and jumping back in when it best suits them.

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Which is more effective?

Arguably, microlearning can be more easily interwoven throughout longer course content as it lends itself to better to denser learning topics. With microlearning segments, learners can be introduced to multiple pieces of crucial information with a high likelihood that they will remember them over time. Nanolearning, meanwhile, is only really effective for conveying individual concepts in extremely short but memorable bursts. The benefit, however, is that the likelihood of retention is higher with fewer completions. 

In short, nanolearning has the benefit of appealing to younger audiences and maximising engagement, but in practice microlearning remains more effective in delivering longer, more complex content to a broader audience. 


Ready to jump on the latest e-learning trend?

Delivering effective microlearning and nanolearning content can only be achieved with a platform that offers diverse media types and content creation tools. Our e-learning platforms provide a range of available features and tools that can help your organisation use the latest e-learning trend to its advantage. To find out more, get in touch with one of our e-learning experts today or if you’d like to read more about achieving a successful microlearning strategy, read our blog.

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