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Nov 5, 2020 2:22:19 PM by Amy Morrisey

Is Microlearning the Solution for Training Your Volunteers?

Is Microlearning the Solution for Training Your Volunteers?

If you’re looking to improve your e-learning volunteer training, you may have come across the term “microlearning.” While incredibly popular in the e-learning industry, is it the right method for your volunteers?

We know that effective training is key to set the stage for successful volunteer management over time. But, there are many different ways that can look!

We’re not here to preach about the benefits of microlearning over longer courses, or vice versa. At Artisan, we create both for our nonprofit clients! Instead, the point is that both are equally valuable—just in different situations.

A microlearning course can’t outright replace a more comprehensive course, or the other way around. So, pause before you restructure your volunteer training with a variety of custom-developed microcourses or a long, droning webinar (which is equally disinteresting to volunteers). 

First, let’s walk through what microlearning is, and then discuss whether it’s the solution for your volunteer training.

First, what is microlearning?

Tiny houses, short films, and bite-sized candy—we have an affinity for the smaller things in life. 

As a volunteer coordinator, you might have even heard of “microvolunteering,” which is a series of small, no-commitment actions that benefit a worthy cause.

There are a variety of reasons to create shorter experiences, whether to fit more in an action-packed day or to suit a volunteer’s shorter attention span. So, it makes sense that your volunteer training research led you to this approach.

With that, let us jump into microlearning. We admit, the examples above might be misleading— there’s much more to microlearning than simply being “small.”

Microlearning refers to relatively short course content that’s focused on a single learning outcome.

We’ve covered the “short” aspect, but the “focused on a single learning outcome” part? That’s the part that can get lost in the mix. Essentially, microlearning courses have one main goal or one key skill that learners walk away with.

This is why you can’t simply “chunk” your longer volunteer training into shorter pieces. However, you could supplement your main volunteer training with a course that highlights the top three safety protocols that volunteers must follow each shift.

Is microlearning the solution for training your volunteers?

Now that we’re working with the same definition, let’s discuss whether microlearning courses would be the right fit for training your volunteers.

Explore the following three scenarios and why microlearning may (or, may not!) be the right solution for your organization.

You’re replacing comprehensive training

Let’s start with a training scenario that all nonprofits with volunteer programs encounter: new volunteer training.

During a training session, you have to convey a ton of important information. The volunteer positions available, vital safety measures—oh, and you have to make a good first impression while doing so. No pressure! When using custom-developed e-learning in this volunteer training scenario, many nonprofits turn to longer, perhaps even multi-module courses. Microlearning simply isn’t the best solution!

Why is that? Because there isn’t a singular learning focus. However, microlearning could be a valuable supplement to that comprehensive training, especially when it comes to highlighting key skills.

You’re supplementing existing training

Let’s discuss the idea of using microlearning to supplement your longer, more comprehensive e-learning courses.

We know that microlearning is the perfect solution to highlight key topics and bring them to the forefront. But what does that look like in practice?

Well, it could be:

  • Making sure volunteers learn the most important skills in a longer course. Let’s say your nonprofit relies on accurate tracking of volunteer hours so that you can secure challenge grant funding. To accurately log these hours, volunteers need to navigate a digital system. You could supplement your longer volunteer orientation course with a microcourse that walks through this specific task.

  • Making addendums to courses to update them with new knowledge. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, your organization may have rolled out new safety measures to protect volunteers and staff alike. A gamified microlearning course could both convey these new measures and provide quick knowledge checks.

Providing comprehensive training and support for volunteers is one way to increase their impact on your organization. If your current e-learning courses aren’t getting the job done, microlearning is great to bridge the gap!

You want volunteers to practice

Whether you believe that “practice makes perfect” or simply “practice makes better,” there is no denying that rehearsal without consequences is helpful. 

Think about it: to become a volunteer coordinator, what did you need to practice? Maybe it was communication skills, problem-solving, or even effective time management. Either way, it wasn’t an overnight transformation—you had time to practice.

Your volunteers can benefit from practice as well! A few examples that come to mind are practicing:

    • Your nonprofit’s key messaging. Some volunteers assist in public-facing roles, such as phone banking for donations. Walk these learners through a microlearning scenario where they practice key phrases and responses.

  • Safety precautions. Volunteers get a peek behind the scenes of your nonprofit. If they’re privy to sensitive information, do they understand how to protect the information shared with them? A microlearning course about internet security could be a great fit.

  • Volunteer tasks. If you’re a food bank and prefer to have donations stored in a specific manner, why not use a gamified, drag-and-drop microlearning course to have volunteers practice the task?

It’s no coincidence that microlearning is effective for allowing volunteers to practice. After all, it allows volunteers to repeat skills and improve their efforts each time. Drawing back to our security example above, volunteers test their skills identifying safe email practices six times before moving on to the next level.

When it comes to volunteer engagement, volunteers who are thriving in their role are more likely to stick around and be impactful in the long run. With the opportunity to practice, they’ll have a better chance of thriving in their role.

How can you decide whether microlearning is the solution for your volunteers?

These examples cover a wide range of volunteer training scenarios your nonprofit might encounter. But, that doesn’t mean these are the only training situations that you might consider microlearning for.

So, if you come across something that wasn’t on this list, how do you decide if microlearning is the best solution? Use these questions to decide:

  • Can the goal of the course be reduced to a singular focus? Is the course about one volunteer position versus an overview of all of the opportunities available?

  • Is the goal to practice a single skill? Consider a course for practicing one volunteer task (sorting donations), versus a course that covers all tasks associated with that volunteer position (sorting, filling out paperwork, cleaning facilities, etc.).

  • Do you need to boost another training course with additional information? Are you creating a full volunteer orientation course, or are you highlighting one aspect such as how to sign up for volunteer shifts?

  • Are you developing training about a specific update or change? Are you creating a course about all safety procedures at your nonprofit, or making an update about the top 3 pandemic-related safety changes you’ve released?

Remember that the point isn’t that your course is shorter than other e-learning courses. Instead, it’s that you’re looking to accomplish one specific goal with the training. If that’s applicable to the course you want to create, then microlearning may be the solution.

And, if you’re not sure, an e-learning content development consultant can help your team decide whether this is the route to go. They can evaluate your volunteer training needs, decide which type of course can best meet that learning objective, and even author the course for you.

Microlearning is a buzzword in the e-learning community, and it’s easy to see why. But, while microcourses are an engaging and accessible e-learning tool, they’re not always the solution for effective volunteer training.

With the tips in this guide, you can decide whether microlearning is the best solution for your team.

Amy Morrisey


Amy Morrisey is the President of Artisan E-Learning and serves as Sales & Marketing Manager. Amy started with Artisan as a contract writer/instructional designer. She was our Production Manager for four years and helped the team to double its capacity. As President, she stays focused on maintaining the high standards our clients have grown to expect. She believes that staying close to our clients, our people, and our work is a smart way to do that. One of her favorite things to do in the e-learning world is jump in with a client to write a storyboard that is creative and application-based. Before working with Artisan, Amy spent 17 years in corporate training and development predominantly teaching leadership development and coaching teams and executives. She currently serves on the board of ATD Detroit.   

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