Microlearning has been a learning and development buzzword for the last few years. What exactly is microlearning, how can it be used in compliance training, how do we differentiate it from other forms of training and how do we reduce push-back from staff who think that it’s just more training to be undertaken in an already time-poor work environment?

This article will answer those questions and outline five things that you need to know to help improve your microlearning content as part of an overall compliance training program.


Microlearning can be defined as a targeted short-form course, knowledge (or learning) nugget, or task that focuses on a skill or idea based on a single learning objective. A course can be considered micro if it is short and to-the-point; generally, no longer than five to ten minutes in duration.

Examples of microlearning include a short e-learning course based on a single concept or scenario, an infographic or interactive PDF, a short educational or instructional (step-by-step) video or animation, or a short webinar.

1) Design for a single purpose

A “complete” training course generally focuses on several learning outcomes based on an overall topic. For example, an anti-money laundering course could focus on the risks of money laundering, customer identification, identifying red flags, terrorist financing, and monitoring and reporting. A microlearning course, on the other hand, would focus on a single learning outcome, for example placement of laundered money.

Microlearning courses should not simply be sliced and diced parts of existing courses, especially larger e-learning courses. They should be able to completed as standalone units without the need for pre-requisite information. Its goal should be the learning or development of a single skill, idea, or “knowledge nugget”.

Courses should be made available for just-in-time need. An example of this would be a Business Development Manager who is about to talk to a competitor. A simple review of a microlearning object, for instance on a smartphone app, on information sharing can provide them with the knowledge of what is legal, legitimate, or appropriate information to share.

TAKEAWAY TIP: Ensure that each microlearning course is based on one simple fact, idea, or message.

2) Be prepared for staff pushback

Compliance training receives a lot of pushback from staff, especially as the same or similar courses are rolled out every one or two years, annually or biennially. Setting additional training tasks for staff as part of an overall compliance training program may be met with protests of “too much training”. It is important to be prepared for this.

When rolling out microlearning courses, either as stand-alone entities or as a part of an overall training program, be careful not to market it as “training”. The word “training may unintentionally provoke a negative response in some employees, especially if they are already required to complete several other training courses, either online or face-to-face. Instead, consider the “what’s in it for me?” and how it will benefit them, for instance as a just-in-time information retrieval artifact. So, instead of focusing on training, focus on its information value.

The fact that it is called “micro” should alert users to the fact that what is required of them is short. When alerting staff that these courses are required, emphasise that they can be completed in only a few minutes.

TAKEAWAY TIP: Promote the benefit of microlearning as information to seek when needed on demand.

3) Scenarios

Scenarios are a useful way of demonstrating actions and their consequences, especially in relation to compliance. Ensure that some of your microlearning content consists of a scenario that is relevant to its audience and portrays something that could happen in their day-to-day job role.

The scenario could be in a short e-learning format, a simple PDF or interactive PDF, or a video or animation.

Individual scenarios could be placed on a learning management system (LMS) together with a larger e-learning course as part of an overall compliance training program.

TAKEAWAY TIP: When creating a scenario as a microlearning course, ensure it is simple, relevant, and realistic to its unique audience.

4) Use in conjunction with other training

Microlearning can be a good introduction to a broader training session, either face-to-face or online.

When designing a compliance training program, consider introducing a topic or topics as microlearning courses prior to a more in-depth exploration of the area.

Microlearning courses can act as “teasers” for training to come and can be used with the aid of posters, emails, videos, or other promotional material, to entice and arouse curiosity. Using it this way may help to reduce fears or frustration about too much training.

It can be used post-training to help reinforce ideas, or act as just-in-time/on demand help to solve an unexpected issue, to get help or seek advice.

TAKEAWAY TIP: Use microlearning courses pre-and post-more comprehensive training to help arouse curiosity and to reinforce ideas or concepts.

5) Spaced repetition

Spaced repetition of training artifacts allows learners to be presented with a concept then shown similar content, or concepts, again so that over time, the idea can help to form behavioural change or allow an idea to be firmly planted in their brain.

We see spaced repetition in many educational apps, for instance the game-based language learning app Duolingo.

In a compliance training program, schedule reminder microlearning artifacts prior to and after additional forms of training, such as face-to-face or e-learning training sessions, or webinars. The assets could be sent via an LMS, reminder emails and/or be hosted on an intranet or company portal.

TAKEAWAY TIP: Space microlearning courses out over a time to create behavioural change and cementing ideas and concepts.

Microlearning is an important component of a compliance training program. Creating targeted content that is based on a single learning outcome will help to create behavioural change and instil essential knowledge. By having resources available on-the-go, learners can get just-in-time/on-demand information when they need it.

Mandatory training can be a daunting experience. Many of us are reluctant to take time away from our daily work activities to attend a training session or complete an e-learning module. Perceptions abound that training is a waste of time, especially mandatory compliance training.

Measuring the effectiveness of training can be difficult to do, particularly when mandatory compliance training is involved. But a related part of this conversation involves learner motivation. The challenge for learning and development professionals is to motivate staff so that learners not only complete their training but view it positively, retain and apply their knowledge to their workplaces, develop confidence in their ability to use this newfound knowledge, and find satisfaction in their practical skills.

This article interprets aspects of John Keller’s ARCS Model of Motivational Design in relation to compliance training. It discusses four main areas to focus on and provides simple tips to help motivate staff so that they participate in and complete mandatory compliance training.

1.  Gain their attention

Adult learners first and foremost need to know “what’s in it for me?” and “how will it make my role better?”. When writing learning outcomes, make sure they are clearly relevant to a staff member’s specific job role, so that they can see from the outset how the training will benefit them and help to improve their work.

Real-world scenarios

Begin by posing a pertinent question to arouse curiosity then follow through with a relevant scenario. The scenario could be based on a real-life incident and explain the consequences, especially in relation to an issue of non-compliance. Scenarios should relate to the learner’s specific job role and involve a “real world” incident. A learner must be able to relate to the scenario and appreciate the consequences of non-compliance it poses. Example: many learners worldwide are either working from home or returning to the office after spending months working from home, or a combination of both. Providing health and safety training to these different demographics of the workforce would need to take into consideration the differences in their workplace environments and the potential breaches they could encounter.

Interactive design

Interactivity can aid in grabbing one’s attention and curiosity. But be careful: overusing interactive elements – for instance over-relying on the “bells and whistles” of imagery or animation – can become monotonous and interfere with learners’ knowledge retention.

2.  Make sure training is relevant

Customise your training

One size does not fit all. We are all unique individuals. Delivering a training session whose content is irrelevant to learners’ workplaces and work practices is not going to motivate anyone to complete their training. In fact, it will often leave them with a very negative impression of training in general. It will almost certainly fail to ensure knowledge retention and to achieve any aim of cultivating positive changes in workplace behaviour.

International standard ISO 19600:2014 Compliance Management Systems states that “[p]roperly designed and executed training can provide an effective way for employees to communicate previously unidentified compliance risks.”

Similarly, Principle 7 of the equivalent Australian Standard, AS3806 Standard on Compliance Programs, states the following:

“Education and training of employees should be:

(a) Practical and readily understood by employees.

(b) Relevant to the day-to-day work of employees and illustrative of the industry, organisation or sector concerned.

(c) Sufficiently flexible to account for a range of techniques to accommodate the differing needs of organisations and employees.”

Adaptive learning

Learners often protest about how they have to complete training on topics that they are already proficient in. This is a justified complaint, especially when mandatory compliance training is legally required every year or two. It is very possible that learners will resit the same training, year in year out.

Provide learners with the flexibility to utilise their own pre-existing knowledge. This can be done by utilising adaptive learning. Prior to commencing a course, present the learner with a series of questions. If they answer a question incorrectly, they must complete the relevant section/topic; if they answer correctly, they may skip that topic.

Identify different job roles and responsibilities

When planning a training program, ensure that you identify different job roles and responsibilities. Create user profiles, or user groups, so that a course can be “sliced and diced”, or modularised, to allow relevant parts of the training to be allocated appropriately.

Example: a training module on competition and consumer law relating to sales staff should be allocated to a staff member who is involved in sales; allocating it to all staff, including office-bound non-sales staff, is likely to be a waste of time and will be perceived negatively.

3.  Instil confidence

A lack of confidence in the subject matter or ability to complete the training can prevent or postpone learners from undertaking or completing required training.

Set expectations for success

At the beginning of the course, clearly outline its objectives and measures for successful completion, for example, by stating that an assessment will be provided in which the learner must achieve a mark of 80% to pass.

Ability to re-do a course and/or quiz

After providing instant feedback, ensure that learners can re-attempt a knowledge check. Ideally, the questions and answers may vary slightly depending on the initial response.

Social learning

Provide learners with the ability to interact with their peers. This can be in the form of a group activity or a discussion forum where peers can share knowledge or ask questions.

Incorporate activities

Training activities which are relevant to the day-to-day activities of staff are an effective way of increasing engagement.

Example: a group-based activity based around fraud where staff investigate red flags with a job-related scenario.

4.  Create a feeling of satisfaction

Successful completion of a course should be a satisfying experience. Learners need to feel a sense of accomplishment.

Provide instant feedback

Provide learners with instant feedback throughout the course. Giving feedback throughout the course, especially in response to “knowledge check” questions, can help to increase satisfaction, build confidence, and aid knowledge retention.

Training should not just end once an e-learning course is complete. Retained knowledge should be transferable to the workplace.


Microlearning, also known as “learnlets” or “micro courses”, consist of “bite-sized” chunks of information designed to assist in periodically reinforcing information.

Example: schedule microlearning courses into the yearly compliance program to act as reminders.

Practical tips

·        Identify user profiles and assign modules specific to learners’ job roles

·        Use adaptive learning to recognise prior knowledge

·        Incorporate real-world scenarios into the training

·        Provide instant feedback throughout the course

·        Use interactivity and animation/graphical elements carefully

·        Follow up training with smaller microlearning courses as part of an overall training program


Despite their initial reluctance, staff can be motivated to complete mandatory compliance training with confidence and satisfaction. When planning an overall training program, consider the ARCS Model of Motivational Design: Attention, Relevance, Confidence, and Satisfaction.

Learning is more effective when learners can relate to the content by reflecting upon their real-world experience. Presenting scenarios in training are often used to assist in this reflection. This article shares four simple steps for writing relevant and effective scenarios and several tips to help you incorporate relevant scenarios into your compliance training sessions.

Step 1: Prepare

Not all learners have the same day-to-day work experience, so any training that an employee receives should be tailored to his or her job role. Begin by identifying your learners and their unique challenges and tasks. For instance, in the health insurance sector, there are customer-facing or call centre staff who deal with complaints, sales staff working away from the office and potentially interacting with competitors, and claims processing staff who deal with clients’ private data.

Another consideration is the location of learners, which is particularly important if your organisation is global. For example, a scenario for an employee in the United States could be different than a scenario for an employee in the same role in Japan or the Middle East, as different countries and regions have their own customs.

Tip: As part of a training needs analysis, develop a simple risk profile of your learners, their job role, their location, their unique challenges and their required training.

Step 2: Research the Content

The scenario must be relevant to learners’ day-to-day job role to arouse curiosity and give them a sense of familiarity. Before writing a scenario:

Research legal proceedings or news items for interesting and relevant industry cases or stories.

Research compliance failures within your industry or at your organisation or a competitor.

Discuss potential scenarios with team members and subject matter experts to flesh out examples.

Scenarios should be succinct enough to allow for quick reading, interesting and relevant to the specific concept it’s illustrating.

Tip: Look out for interesting industry-specific anecdotes or incidents, and work backward to predict how the compliance failure may have occurred.

Step 3: Write the Scenario

A successful scenario will prompt learners to reflect upon their prior experiences. When writing a scenario, consider the characters involved, the organisation where they work and the situation they find themselves in.

The Characters

To ensure a scenario is as true to life as possible, make sure that the characters who appear in the scenario reflect the diversity found in the organisation. In addition, consider that a character is not only a person but may also be an organisation.

The Situation

Begin by introducing a fictitious character. Outline the character’s job role and (usually fictitious) organisation. Build upon this foundation by succinctly outlining the situation, the character and related parties find themselves in, such as a privacy breach that occurs after a staff member leaves sensitive documentation unsecured on his or her desk.

Tip: If the scenario evolves with additional information, be careful not to provide too much information up front. The aim here is to help learners reflect on their role and make them curious, so they want to see what happens next.

An Evolving Story

Expand upon a scenario by adding additional information as the training progresses. This type of narrative helps create a flow and maintain learners’ curiosity.

Tip: You are a storyteller. Take the learners on the journey of how a potential or actual compliance failure occurred.

Step 4: Write Questions and Answers With Feedback

Putting the scenario at the beginning of a training module helps to arouse curiosity and ease learners into the content. Following up with other learning content helps them place that content in the context of the preceding scenario.

Ending with a quiz or other knowledge check related to the scenario helps reinforce the concepts covered; be sure to have a link to the scenario so that the learners can refer back to it. Ask a short question related to the actions of one of the characters — for instance, “Could ABC be a target for money launderers or terrorist financers?”. Expand on the answer options; in this case, they do not have to be a simple “yes” or “no” but can include a reason why. Be sure to provide instant feedback; for example, when a user clicks on an answer, they receive an explanation of why their answer was correct or incorrect.

Tip: When writing a question, don’t make its answer too obvious. If learners think about the answer and even answer incorrectly at first, they are more likely to remember it in future.

Scenarios are a simple yet effective way to motivate learners, arouse their curiosity and help them understand how the training relates to them. By providing real-world, relevant stories, you can help ensure that learners receive training positively ultimately change their behavior.