Is Microlearning Right for Your Content Strategy?
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Is Microlearning Right for Your Content Strategy?

Microlearning, or the portioning of learning units into relatively brief elements, is a buzzy word at the moment, and it’s stirring up a lot of feelings — hope, angst, confusion — in content strategy sessions throughout the marketing world.

The recent boom in microlearning, aided as it was by the sudden, COVID–19-induced shift to remote forms of learning, has, in truth, been years in the making. So, it’s safe to assume that the trend might maintain its present course for the foreseeable future.

But how do we face the immediate challenge of sifting through the glut of information and speculation to know, definitively, if microlearning is right for your content strategy?

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Let’s think about roles: As writers, marketing professionals, and business owners, we wear many hats throughout the workday.

Let’s think about roles.

As writers, marketing professionals, and business owners, we wear many hats throughout the workday. Some more obvious than others, like the one listed on your business card or as the guy or gal who makes the best breakroom coffee. In COVID times, that may just mean you’re the one who wears the barista pants in the family and knows how to work the espresso machine. But believe it or not, your most important role is one that many of us think about the least.

If your business requires the marketing or selling of anything, even marketing the business itself, you are an educator. To achieve great marketing of a product or service, you have to first and foremost be a great storyteller and ultimately, a teacher, building with each piece of content — each interaction — a loyal base of customer support.

After all, it is your company’s well-informed evangelists who are often the best messengers for your brand. They know the ‘what,’ they’ve experienced the ‘how,’ and they believe in the ‘why’ that built your brand equity and got you to where you are today.

But this kind of support doesn’t come easy. In reality, the challenge of securing such indelible customers keeps growing as the possibilities for reaching eyes and ears, opening hearts and minds on the internet, in print, and over the airwaves ever expand. And at the same time, expectations have narrowed.

According to research out of Seattle-based digital marketing firm, Portent, “the first 5 seconds of page load time have the highest impact on conversion rates.” For every second above this threshold, website conversion on the 94 million page views they analyzed drops “by an average of 2.11%.” Unforgiving margins like these leave next-to-no room for error in your core messaging.

But margins of error that step on your sandcastle and give you a lump of coal for Christmas are nothing new for marketers who are used to swimming upstream against paradigm shifts in communications and consumer behavior. That first message is, or at least should be, written as though it were the last. Continually pose the question: What would you say to a potential lead if you had less than five seconds to say it?

This is where the concept of microlearning comes into play and perhaps why it has experienced such a meteoric rise in recent years. Since 2012, use of the term has increased more than 1,300 percent, according to Google, with much of that rise having taken place since 2016.

What is microlearning?

So, what is microlearning?

Even as microlearning experiences such a dramatic rise in interest, you might be surprised to find out how little consensus there is around what exactly we mean when we talk about microlearning. It turns out there is a good reason for this disparity.

According to the SAGE Encyclopedia of Online Education, microlearning refers to the “segmentation of large amounts of information into small sections” for the purpose of education. By breaking primary subjects down into consumable portions, microlearning enables students or, in our case, a marketing audience, to build mastery or knowledge in an area by accumulation.

Common forms of microlearning include:

  • Infographics
  • Interactive learning guides
  • Ebooks
  • Interactive PDFs
  • Animated instructional or informational videos
  • Interactive videos
  • Webinars
  • VR/AR experiences (virtual/augmented reality)

The list goes on. But beyond the basic elements, industry-specific definitions of microlearning remain elusive for at least two reasons — let’s tear the term apart. Learning, for all our familiarity with the word, is a varied practice. It refers to no single method or process and, predictably, the same can be said about microlearning.

There is no one way to craft or deliver messages that are being microtaught. And micro- is a prefix that is equally fraught. Micro- is, by its own definition, relative to whatever predefinitions we have established for the macro- or meso- (meaning “middle” or “intermediate”) elements that correspond to it. Micro- indicates no preset format and puts no pre-established temporal guardrails on the learning to which it refers.

Formal concepts like microlearning or microteaching have been with us for decades — at least since the 1960s — but have found their most symbiotic existence in the convenience and self-determined nature of online learning.

Microlearning found a happy home on the internet and you should, too.

Microlearning found a happy home on the internet and you should, too

Online education allows learners to progress at a pace that works in harmony with busy schedules and nuanced lifestyles. So, it’s no wonder why or how microlearning finds its growing audience in online platforms, even when the UX/UI demands of internet users make inhospitable terrain for the application of traditional Web 1.0 teaching methods.

We’ve all seen statistics like these:

  • 39 percent of users will stop engaging with a website if images won’t load or take too long to load. (Source: Adobe)
  • 38 percent of people will stop engaging with a website if the content/layout is unattractive. (Source: Adobe)
  • A 0.1 second improvement in page load speed correlates to a 10 percent increase in consumer spending. (Source: Deloitte)

People, as it turns out, are ruthless when consuming online content. All that clicking and swiping — to paraphrase a famous sports commentator, you can’t stop it, you can only hope to contain it. And to do so, great content  — content that grabs the reader, that pulls at their stringy parts, that stokes engagement — has to tell a compelling story. And increasingly, as the statistics show, you have less and less time to tell that story.

But even if we didn’t have the luxury of statistics, we in the SEO-focused world of content marketing have seen the shift in our page rankings. Content that ranked consistently high went from long-form, keyword-stuffed pieces to short-form, back to long-form, down to 140 characters, up to 280. Now you’re condensing your well-researched, experience-backed quarterly content strategy down to a TikTok of four lines of bold text laid over a video of your CEO dancing with their cat in quarantine.

No matter your format, the old adage remains true: Content is king. Consumer feedback during COVID only emphasizes this point. Two months into the coronavirus pandemic, social media intelligence firm Shareablee released the results of a survey that asked participants about the various types of content they prefer during these challenging times.

Fifty-six percent chose “content about the ‘new normal’ (work from home, homeschooling, etc.),” while 52 percent identified “content about supporting the community (donations, acts of kindness, etc.),” and 46 percent picked content about optimism (better time ahead, feel-good stories, etc.).”

Each of the categories listed, as analysis of the survey suggests, has a common “human element.” Perhaps especially during times of uncertainty, people are turning to content to reinforce a sense of community and reassure them that better times are on the horizon.

Regardless of length, message, or medium, content that is designed to reach a target audience will be measured against a high standard of quality. How useful it is and how efficiently your content answers the questions people are asking are two primary considerations. And more than ever, especially in light of our pandemic-enhanced remoteness to one another, your message needs to meet its audience where they are — wherever that is — and at the speed to which they are accustomed.

As the Chief Learning Officer for New York-based technology company Grovo, Summer Salomonsen, said back in June 2020:

“Learners don’t waste seven seconds on content that is disconnected, irrelevant, or flat-out boring. But they’ll willingly hang on to minute 10 when they see value in what they’re watching.”

This idea is also true for short-form or even micro content measured in seconds, rather than minutes. Learners, you could say, won’t waste three seconds on content they dislike, but they’ll hang on to second five when there’s real value involved. There may be a hint of sarcasm embedded there, but the point is self-edifying. Quality is of the utmost importance to content of any length. Which now brings us to our final question and the juicy answer that’s going to make all that scrolling worth your while.

Is microlearning right for your content strategy? The short answer is yes. We’ve seen that short content can be successful in a marketing campaign, but there’s more to it than that.

Microlearning is (probably) right for your content strategy.

Microlearning is (probably) right for your content strategy.

A content strategist would rarely suggest that a company push out only one type of content, written or otherwise. Diversifying your content, after all, is just as important to the success of a marketing campaign as diversifying revenue streams is to the sustainability of a business, overall. But how do you know which types of content to produce for your specific audience and/or industry?

A good indicator of how best to wed content type to a given audience is through your SERP results. SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) refer to any result generated from a keyword search beyond traditional organic results and encompass all the types of content that most commonly appear as relevant search results for a given search term.

These include features like Paid Results, Rich Snippets, and Knowledge Cards but extend to:

  • Top and bottom AdWords
  • Shopping results
  • Related questions
  • Local packs
  • Image packs
  • Tweets
  • Video results

From a strategy standpoint, your focus should be glued to the SERP results related to your content because they can be your canary in the coal mine telling you what content forms are ranking and how the consumer winds are shifting. And so it is possible, simply from analyzing your SERP results, to get a grasp of whether or not microlearning content would improve your content strategy.

And because we are well into the 21st Century, it’s reasonable to infer that microlearning content is not only right, but essential, for your content strategy to remain ranking in the search results and in people’s minds for some time to come.

Other ways to determine the usefulness of microlearning content to your overall strategy include:

  • Content audit: Examine your existing content. It’s likely you’ve already employed some microlearning principles in your previous engagements. See how those pieces have performed and where you can make adjustments.
  • Sales funnel analysis: Sales funnels may vary from industry to industry, but they all serve the same function. Analyze your funnel to get a clear understanding of what types of content work best at which stage in the customer journey. It’s likely you’ll find a use for microlearning along the way.
  • A/B testing: One of the best ways to know how your content will perform, is to know. You can put some of the microlearning principles listed above into action almost immediately and, shortly thereafter, crunch the data to get a sense of what grabs attention, spurs engagement, and drives conversion.

If your content strategy needs a bigger boost, check out these recent blog posts…

Or contact a member of our team to see what managed content creation could mean for your bottom line.

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David Sax

About David

David Sax is an experienced content strategist, researcher, copywriter, ghostwriter, and aspiring pizzaiolo whose unicorn status stems from a nontraditional background in academia. His research and writing interests include B2B and B2C marketing strategy, technological innovation, and 19th Century peace movements. He loves to curl up by the fire with a good wifi connection and a JSTOR password.

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