How to Leverage Micro and Macro Learning for Behaviour Change

How to Leverage Micro and Macro Learning for Behaviour Change

Reading Time: 6 minutes


L&D professionals are constantly looking for new ways to create high-impact learning experiences that support business needs. In recent years, some of these learning experiences have shrunk in size and a new term has been coined to describe them – microlearning. 

At its best, microlearning delivers training just in time and at the point of need. So, is macro learning now obsolete? The short answer is: No! Both methods have their rightful place in the learning landscape. 

Let us examine what micro and macro learning entails, where they are best applied, and how they work together most effectively. Subsequently, we will take a look at how you can leverage both these techniques to achieve sustained behaviour change in your workforce. 

What is microlearning?

Microlearning is already part of our daily routine and you may not even be aware of it! Employees use it to problem-solve at a task level when they need immediate help. Questions that microlearning can answer are, for example:

  • How do I perform this action in this software?
  • What information should I include in this meeting invite?
  • Which template would be best for this presentation?

The learner intentionally searches for answers to a specific question or he/she may stumble upon useful information serendipitously. Microlearning is typically consumed in short bursts of 10 minutes or less and can happen through:

  • Searching on Google or other search engines 
  • Asking a colleague for assistance
  • Watching short videos
  • Reading blog posts, articles, or forum entries 
  • Finding answers on social media
  • Consulting internal materials such as manuals and guides

Microlearning does have some downsides, though. Due to the informality of microlearning, it’s more difficult to control, standardise, and analyse from an L&D perspective. Another main drawback of microlearning is that it is not very effective at conveying complex concepts. That is why macro learning is still needed.  

What is macro learning?

Macro learning is best utilised to teach a whole new domain or topic to employees. This type of learning explains the new field thoroughly and in depth. In organisations, macro learning is used to train complex concepts, such as:

  • How to prepare an impactful presentation to senior management
  • The best approach to structuring a complex proposal
  • How to effectively manage a diverse team 

Macro learning requires a substantial time investment of several hours or even days from the learner. It’s often delivered in the form of:

  • Instructor-led, classroom training
  • Elearning courses 
  • MOOCs
  • Simulations 

Macro learning does come with a different set of disadvantages, one of them being its inflexibility. It doesn’t provide employees with quick access to the specific information that they need at a particular time. Macro content is often locked away in classrooms and LMS, not readily available across devices and rarely adapted to individual needs. 

Furthermore, macro learning is often a one-time event. Therefore, the newly-formed knowledge quickly falls prey to the forgetting curve. As much as 70% of what was learned will be forgotten within the first 24 hours if there’s no attempt made to reinforce and retain it. 

Where does micro and macro learning apply?

Where does micro and macro learning apply?












Source: The Disruption of Digital Learning: Ten Things We Have Learned


Both, micro and macro learning, have an important place in the learning environment of organisations. Josh Bersin discussed the application of micro and macro learning throughout an employee’s career. Macro learning is crucial for employees who are new to a job, providing them with the essential knowledge and skills to perform well. 

Subsequently, microlearning helps to continuously reinforce the macro content and inject new information to keep the learning curve steep. Once employees reach proficiency in a certain role or skill, they might require another macro learning intervention to diversify their skillset and further climb up the corporate ladder. 

How micro and macro learning work together effectively

By now, it should be clear that both micro and macro learning are required in organisations to get the most out of your talented employees and meet your business needs. Organisations reap the most benefits when the two methods are strategically applied and used in conjunction with each other. 

After employees learn new concepts in macro learning interventions, microlearning is in the best position to overcome the forgetting curve and extend training beyond the end of the formal programme, taking it into the working environment. This happens through the application of spaced learning, also called content chunking. It deepens the understanding of concepts, aids retention of information, and reinforces new behaviours. 

The ideal result of combining micro and macro learning is a workforce that actively applies new skills and knowledge in the workplace. Consequently, organisations will witness a larger impact and return-on-investment of their training programmes. 

Practical tips for leveraging micro and macro learning to increase behaviour change

It’s likely that your organisation uses macro learning in the form of online courses or classroom training to develop employees. You may also have utilised some microlearning components already. Let’s look at how you can strategically integrate them to create one continuous learning journey that will unlock the behaviour change that you want to see in your staff. 

Integrate microlearning into training objectives

Setting objectives for training programmes is common best practice among L&D professionals. They define exactly what employees should know and be able to do after the macro learning intervention. Likewise, for microlearning to be effective in reinforcing the new skills effectively, it also needs concrete goals. 

What new behaviours would you like to see from your learners after the training? How will you know whether or not your learners are performing the new behaviours? The more specific your goals are, the better able you will be, to develop the right microlearning messages that reinforce the new behaviours. 

Repurpose macro content for microlearning 

To design your microlearning, build on your existing training material. There’s no need to “reinvent the wheel” or invest in the development of new material. It isn’t sufficient, though, to simply break the content down into smaller pieces. It should strategically lead learners on a journey that follows the three phases of behaviour change:

  • Awareness – Learners must realise WHY the new knowledge and skills are important and how they will help them perform their job better. ?
  • Knowledge & Skills – Learners must understand and remember WHAT the new knowledge and skills are, and transfer them into long-term memory. 
  • Application – Learners must know HOW they can apply the new knowledge and skills on the job. 

Use a variety of content types 

Attending day-long training courses is something that many employees don’t look forward to. That’s why it’s even more important to keep engagement high when you follow up with microlearning. You can achieve that by utilising a great variety of content types that keep the short learning bursts fresh and engaging. In your microlearning modules, you could incorporate:

  • Text
  • Videos
  • Photos
  • Documents
  • Links to more in-depth information
  • Measurements (such as quizzes and survey questions)

Provide continuous feedback to learners

Naturally, we all want to know how well we are doing at any given thing. Providing feedback to your learners regularly, for example, through short tests or quizzes, has two advantages. The first is that forcing the recall of information helps the learner to retain that knowledge in their long-term memory. The second advantage is that any misunderstandings that have occurred can be immediately fixed.

Here’s how this happens: When the learner gives the correct answer in a quiz, he or she automatically reinforces that knowledge. If he or she gets the question wrong, the right answer will be shown and memorised. Either way, the learner will be challenged over and over again, helping the brain to understand that it’s worth remembering this information.

Set up a solid infrastructure for microlearning 

For microlearning to effectively support and reinforce macro learning, it has to be delivered in a deliberate and structured way. In other words, the right people need to see it at the right time. One of the best ways to achieve that is to make it available on devices that your learners already use on a daily basis. 

For example, an app on their mobile phones can send push notifications at predetermined moments. Each message will only require a few minutes of the learner’s attention, enough to trigger reinforcement and knowledge retention but not too much so that it interrupts their workday. 

Foster a culture of continuous learning 

Last but not least, cultural change is required to encourage continuous learning. Traditionally, learning was something formal that happened in a classroom and rarely involved follow-up. In contrast, the new way of learning is continuous and more informal. 

Employees need to internalise that it’s now expected of them to engage with the learning material even after the training. Also, managers should follow up and actively support their teams on their learning journeys. L&D professionals can help bring about this change by involving senior leaders and asking them to role-model the new culture. 

Where to go from here

The bottom line is that by using micro and macro learning in tandem, you can teach new concepts and skills, support retention, and reinforce the application of new skills for long-term behaviour change. When both methods are effectively linked together and build upon each other, they have the greatest impact on your company’s success. 

If you are curious to learn more or are looking for a way to get started with microlearning, we have a solution for you. People Potential partnered with Mindmarker, the leader in training reinforcement, to deliver microlearning that drives lasting behaviour change. We call this The Reinforcement Revolution. 

Together, we are bridging the gap between training and business impact with a proven methodology delivered through award-winning technology. The Mindmarker app is based on scientific studies, psychology theories, academic research, and 10 years of corporate training results worldwide. Already, 3,000 clients in 100 countries use it successfully. 

Here at People Potential, we provide a dedicated team of consultants and designers ready to fully customise a microlearning solution for your macro training programmes. 

Click here to get in touch with us!



Share this:
Posted in Behaviour Change, Best practices.

Julia Saxena

Julia Saxena is a senior writer at People Potential. Since working in HR of one of the world's largest banks, she has been fascinated by the human factor in the success of organisations. Julia loves to discuss topics which are on top of HR professionals minds with the aim to improve some workplaces along the way.