Build Gr8 Micro-Learning Course

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For months I’ve been telling folks that if they want to learn how to build outstanding courses, they should surf deep into the search engines, locate the information and begin their learning experience.

I was wrong.

Now before you go “WHAT?”, let me tell you why.  The other day, I went deep into the search engine world, using multiple engines including DuckDuckGo, Google, Dogpile and a few others, and while I discovered a lot of information on ID insight, a lot of it was either outdated, unusable or just outright none applicable to today’s course building.

Outdated and seriously who is using this?

Unless you are an ID (instructional designer) or e-learning developer who was inspired by Gagne, you are not touching this with a five foot pole. I have yet to meet an educator who uses Gagne.  ADDIE?  Not really applicable to e-learning, although you can do a hybrid of it (I’ll identify the letter representations in a second).

Theory loaded garbage? Yowsa, a lot out there. I got bored just reading a couple of paragraphs. Any HE institution who spews this trash, should go back and read it for themselves.  If they want a cure for insomnia, I recommend it.

Worse to it all, is the fact that it is completely worthless to any one who is building the following:

  • Micro-learning course
  • Scenario based course
  • Video based course
  • Using RCATs like Articulate Studio
  • Using PowerPoint as a course (Ok, you shouldn’t be doing this at all, but I know many do)
  • Any course you want to be interactive and engaging (which is every course out there)

Now, if you want to experience the 1950’s by all means, read this bag of manure and go for it.

Modern or “current” e-learning courses with..

I viewed articles on how to build modern e-learning courses or scenario based courses, and giggled (actually I didn’t).  Again, who is writing this stuff? Have they actually built a real world scenario based course?  Have they applied this approach to various types of industries and job roles?

And what is “modern” e-learning course?  AR? VR content? Video sliced?  A hand puppet who talks?   Come on, give me a major break.  Or some type of break for reading this and assessing, for like three seconds.

Challenges to the course building today

For those who are ID and e-learning developers, you have truly an upper hand in building SBL (scenario based) and other types of interactive and engaging courses. This post is targeted for the rest of the world, who does not have the ID or e-learning developer background.  In other words, the majority.

I wish it wasn’t so, but that is the world we live in today, and part of the reason this is happening is due to:

  • Rapid content authoring tools (they know who they are)

One well-known vendor told me they want people who are brand new to online learning course building, or if you think of a triangle, the bottom of that pyramid.   Geez, what an honor.

  • People coming from ILT who have never built an e-learning course

Usually I find the PPT driven approach, due to it.

  • People who do not have any ID or e-learning development background and either told they are building courses or they are having to build courses along with their other duties which are not e-learning related OR they are in departments whereas courses need to be built and they have roles in HRIS or other areas, regardless if they are e-learning or tech or HR related
  • HR folks who have never built let alone seen an online course, beyond those downright awful compliance courses.  I feel your pain by the way.

Before we dive in

I want to scream to every rapid course authoring tool vendor who does NOT have a “how to” create online learning course eBook or guide.  Which in this case, are the majority of vendors.

Trivantis has one and I thank you for that. 

If you want to learn how to build courses in the authoring tool, then yes, there are quite a few. But it is related specifically to that authoring tool and does not give true insight or successful methods to building interactive and engaging courses.

Micro-learning or scenario based course builds?  Ha, ha, ha – the joke is on you. Or the misery, depending on your perspective.

There is ZERO reason that authoring tool vendors (as a whole) are ignoring this and then tell people are product enables you build courses, as though it is enough.

Well, it is not enough. 

Dive in – oh wait

Here is what I really despise when it comes to micro-learning courses

  • Text – as in all text.   I do not care if client A or B wants this, and uses this mechanism or says their learners love it.  Trust me, if they were given an interactive, engaging and real world scenario whereas they could jump around to focus on what is relevant to them, rather than what you think is relevant, they would use it.

I have seen vendors who have one pager text courses (and I use that term loosely), which people can print out and they the vendors tell me, people love that. 

If that is the case, they why not write on a piece of paper, scan it in and sell that as your text course?

Better yet, you (the vendor) read that page and then tell me who is going back in six months and reviewing it?  Please, please tell me. 

While you are at it, explain how comprehension, retention and synthesize occurs.  I’d love to hear it.

  • Micro courses that remind of of those micro cars back in the 80’s

In other words, fast and furious but not a lot of information.  And definitely not using SBL nor mechanisms that work for synthesis.

  • Video courses that are just videos of someone talking to you with some background


  • YouTube pitch

This is the pitch that people (apparently millennials) are going to YouTube to look for information on a subject rather than using your course.  Well if you did it right

a. They wouldn’t

b. How can you guarantee that the information is accurate, I mean have you seen some of that stuff?

c. Do you really want some person who has ZERO experience as an SME, OR worse, speaks in a total monotone voice OR is an SME on the subject but is all over the place, telling your people how to do something?  Better yet, can you really believe that retention and synthesis is going to be there?

There are a lot of reasons why people go to YouTube to watch videos, but to say to people with a straight face, that folks are using YouTube to find information on how to do something or some topic as a reason for not creating A or B course, is not only a cop out, but honestly, you should just resign.

Because you are missing the point.

You are the person running training or L&D or HR.  You are the expert. Yes, this is a major peeve with me – ah, not the folks running these departments, rather the folks who say “why create this, when people are going to YouTube, instead.”

I go to YouTube to watch videos. A friend of mine likes those “people who dumb things” videos. 

Another friend enjoys animal videos.  In other words, not everyone is going on YouTube to see how to do something, and oh yeah, depending on the video, there might be an ad on it.   And not one for your company.

Let’s Build a micro based learning course that delivers

I started building such courses back in 2000, when I referred to them as scenario based courses.  I had an outside developer build a couple again following the approach of SBL with mini modules that were micro based (we just didn’t call it that).

The Steps (and anyone can do this)

  1. Pick a topic
  2. Identify two or three areas you want people to learn.  Each of these areas will be a mini-module within your micro based course.  If you only want to focus on one specific subject piece that is fine as well.  But, I’m going to go with three.
  3. Map out what you want to cover, in other words, create a mini storyboard (it can be a piece of paper or a word document or one of the items, I will list below – at the end of this post). 

It can be in text or using images or whatever you feel comfortable with.  A lot of people who are not ID or ELD use text.  

Tip:  You enter the text in each block of your storyboard.  The text is going to be what you want to include in the course, the ideas.  Maybe you want block four to be your scenario, so you write in the box what the scenario is going to be and the information within it

If you are using SMEs, then extract the info from them, pick out the relevant pieces and incorporate it into your micro course. 

Remember the goal is to create a course based on one topic (and if you want, sub-areas), not a course that is long and deadly.  Short and tight, I always say.

Many people do not do the above and as a result, they end up with a dud of a course.  The storyboard angle is a lost art and it shouldn’t be.  Want to know how the masters build their courses? Storyboard first.

4. If you are planning on having a course where people are talking (or animated figures), then put together a script.

5. If you are not doing a script, and you do not to, or if you are, then when done (if you are doing a script) to the next section. 

Build time – Let the fun start

One main topic with no sub-topics

  1. Use your storyboard information with those magical blocks (well, they are not magical, but for you, imagine they are)
  2. The course is only on that one topic.  Nothing more.  What is it going to be? Short and tight.  Repeat – Short and Tight.
  3. Total Running Time – no more than 10 minutes.  I say this because people are so used to the classroom mentality, that many folks will ask you how long the course is going to be.  I normally say it is based on your learning style and your pace and for some people that is fine; for others it is not.

Remember a micro-based learning course can be non-linear, in other words, you can jump around and focus on a specific section or page. 

You do not have to go linear in a micro-based course, in fact, I do not recommend it.

4. Create scenarios.  A scenario is based on a real world experience or example.  Rather than using an assessment at the end of each course or mini-module (if you have them as part of your course),  go SBL. 

Simply speaking, SBL is based upon the information they learn in the micro-course.  Even if they jump around to focus on specific pieces, if they want to go right to the scenario, they can. 

  Clearly, they will need to know the other parts within the course, but hey, if they want to try it, fine.  

On the other hand, if they never go into the scenario that is acceptable – because remember a WBT (web-based training course) is all about enabling someone to focus on what is relevant to them,  what they want to learn to help them achieve success or gain insight and knowledge. 

5. Your course should be interactive and engaging.  I see way too many micro courses that are just awful.  Yes, they are short, but they miss the whole point of micro-learning.  And it is  another reason why your learners will not go back into the course.

Note: If you are going with a video course, the total running time should be two to three minutes.  Five minutes at the most. Nothing more.

What if I do mini-modules within a micro-course

If you do it, then you have moved from what most people do, to what I would see as the next tier to micro-learning and honestly, the amazing benefits of micro-learning.

With mini-modules you are still at micro-level and still focus on one topic – “how to do” for each module, which when you put the whole “course” together, enables a learner to jump to whatever module they want, rather than staying in that one course.

Think of the capabilities of mini-mods if you want, from an interactive and learning experience. 

And for those folks who just can’t move away from length, a mini-mod can be done in as little as three minutes to five minutes or as much as ten minutes (if someone asked).  But for the learner themselves, it might be longer or shorter.

The win of course, is that the learner can focus on what they need to know on how to do something, and go back into that mini-mod as often as they want, just as if you had a micro-course with no mini-mods.

Each mini-mod just as your micro course (with only one how to do or “topic”) should be interactive and engaging.  And yes, you would still have the “content” the information within the min-mod too.  Just as you would with a micro course in of itself without the mini-mods.

Again, let’s go thru the steps of just creating a micro-course that has no mini-mods in it.

Steps once again (and anyone can do this)

  1. Focus on one topic aka as one specific concept, task, etc.
  2. Create a mini storyboard, you can use paper with blocks (which you create), you can use PowerPoint (with each slide being a component of the storyboard – I should add that people that use PPT for a storyboard, like the flexibility of it, you can use storyboard software – even if it is for making a movie or whatever)
  3.  If you are going to have people talk in your micro-course, even if it is animated figures, create a script.


  • Everything is ready to go, no need to think “okay, what am I going to do here”
  • Saves TIME and enables you to see the big picture
  • Allows you to modify after viewing the board, without going back into the course to do so; an interactive course that uses a SBL really can be seen within your board.  Even if it is showing how to use software for example, each “block” is a step.
  • If someone wants to see how the course is looking, rather than showing them something that is having you say this or that or it appears incomplete, a board says “I got this. This is my process. My steps to ensuring this is a great course.”  No one will argue with that. 

Back to Steps

4. Design and Develop the course.  One topic, or task.  If you do min-mods within your micro course, then each mini-mod is a task/topic/info/etc. 

5. Make sure the course incorporates SBL (a real world scenario, whereas the person applies what they learned into this situation).  Can you have a SBL as a video?  Yes you could. But if you are going video, then just create a micro-course as a video.  I’ll give an example in a sec.

6.  I do not recommend having an assessment at the end of a micro-course.  I’ve seen people who have some quiz or mini quiz within a micro-course. To me, it stops the flow and if someone is bouncing around (non-linear, and the reason WBT was created, i.e. e-learning), the quiz no longer is applicable.  

Assume it is a task or how to do something – why do I need an assessment or quiz to verify.  Rather, allow me to return as much as I want and as often as I want.

Examples – We need Examples.

Micro-course with no mini-mods.  

I won’t go into a script here.  I will though use text steps (rather than blocks as I would usually do with in my case text.  I am a master of stick figures, BTW).

Storyboard uses steps, prior to creating the course.   The course can be interactive/engaging which using this example.  If you want it to be a video, then

The topic:  How to Open a new workbook in Microsoft Excel 

Imagine below is a storyboard, with each step being in the board, and interaction, i.e. the course will look like Microsoft Excel with you (learner) engaging within Excel to follow the steps. 

You can have a “virtual mentor” if you so choose And/Or go with the infamous “Show me, Assist me, Let me do it” approach which is really useful in learning software.  The learner in this approach, selects which option they want.  There is no default.


Tip:  Visually think how the course will look.  It might require you to screen record all the steps ahead of time, then you go refer back to this as you create your board.  If you realize you need to add an additional step you can do this. 

Point is to provide the information to help someone achieve or specifically learn how to do it.  Always remember that people can go back to that step as often as they want.

When you are thinking of how you will create your course, you may say to yourself:  I will show them how to do it, then give them the option to select the steps using a table of contents in my course.

If you go this route, you truly have interaction and engagement, rather than just a video view.  But if you want it to be a video, then no need to have a TOC, because it is just a video.

“How to open a new workbook in Microsoft Excel”

Note:  In your course, you can either just show them the steps you a screen recording, thus there is ZERO interaction.

Thus in your board, you would state as step #1 – Find your Microsoft Excel icon on your screen and click to open it.  The learner will find the Excel icon and click on it.

  1. Click to open Microsoft Excel
  2. The left side of the screen will be blank.
  3. Learner clicks on “Blank Workbook”

If you want mini-mods, then you could expand this to be “How to open a new workbook in Microsoft Excel. 

Tip: If you plan on creating a file that the learner will open within the course, then list that as step one. 

Step #2. Create an Excel document, and save the Excel document. The document will just be some data I entered.  

Step #3.  File will be within the course itself.

Thus, the “first three new steps” will be part of your course and board and now be listed as “Step #4 and so forth.  Oh and the steps listed below would become Step #5 and so forth. 

  1. Within Microsoft Excel you will see a green ribbon on the top of the screen (show the ribbon within the software (actual screen recording for example or whatever way you are going to record this step)
  2.  On the very far side of this ribbon, you will see “File”
  3. Learner clicks to open the file, they will see only one file within a folder window. 
  4.  Click to Open File (learner will click “File” on the ribbon, screen record with the learner clicking within the course. Interactive)
  5. The learner will see a listing of options.  They will click “Open”. 
  6. They will select the folder, click it and open it within the Excel workbook.

Note: This will occur within the recording (or other mechanism you may choose to go with, for example, simulation software, or whatever type of software you will be using to create the course.

If your authoring tool has the ability to record piece by piece, then you will list that, in my example I am just stating “recording”)  

Thus each step within the course, should be a chapter or page.  You can have within your micro-course a table of contents. 

If you have mini-mods, then each mod could become a series of steps, if you so choose. OR different topics.

Thus in our scenario (and yes, it is now a Scenario, so tada!) After they open the file and see the file, they select a column and enter text. Then save the file with the same name, thus click “Save”)

8.  Course is completed.

Tip:  You do not list what type of authoring tool software you are using in your storyboard.  Nor do you list the other types of software you are using. 

Some people do, but I never did. A storyboard is about the story and yes, your course is a story on how to do something or learn a role task or whatever.

Another micro-course could be creating opening a “Recent file” i.e. workbook and show the steps for that.  Thus with one piece of software, you have created two micro-courses focusing on one task/topic/insight.

Bottom Line

Anyone can create a micro course.

But there is a difference between creating just a micro-course and creating an interactive/engaging micro course.

Just as there is a difference between a linear how to do video or linear non-engaging quick mini course.

Anyone can just build.  But those who take the time to use a storyboard whether it is done on a piece of paper, in PowerPoint or storyboard software, will see a huge difference.

One that your learners will enjoy and re-use.

Because when you visually see the big picture, you know where to go and how to get there.

You eliminate the “surprises”. A knowledge opportunity that turns into a course infomercial.

Sure it will be short and tight.

But equally boring. 

And thus you will get what you never want to see.

Someone going to YouTube, rather than your course.

E-Learning 24/7









  1. Interesting Blog…..
    I like your thoughts about micro learning and your research methods. I’m doing a management course and follow your tips for research skill development.

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