Thoughts on Microlearning

Microlearning: Why It's Effective

Do you want to change something about your behavior, but find it almost impossible to do so? Achieving behavior change — especially change that lasts — can be challenging. The ability to achieve lasting change with kCards is based on well-regarded theory about how we think and act. 

Leaders Everywhere ChallengeAward-Winning

kCards are inspired by both recent and classic studies on behavior change. Used as a way to train Northwestern University graduate students in leadership-influence, kCards won a Harvard Business Review/McKinsey M-Prize for Management Innovation's Leaders Everywhere Challenge

Based on the Learning-From-Experience Model

Research tells us that experimentation is necessary to achieve lasting behavior change. You experiment by starting with an idea about the behavior you want to stop, start, or avoid, and then follow that with a process that repeats in a looping effect. Each kCard acts as a mini-experiment with think, do and improve as its mantra. Because kCards break change down into small steps, they are right-sized to mitigate the risk associated with the "try it" or "do" stage of the learning-from-experience model.

For example, you might not be motivated to clean your garage, but you may be okay with straightening up your tool bench. By choosing one simple but vital behavior to work on, you shrink the action until it reaches the natural level of your motivation. In addition, you add motivation by pairing your intended action with an inspiring quote that appeals to your emotional mind, something researchers say is vital for change to occur. 

In the next stages of your experiment, you observe and interpret the results, and then decide whether to change your approach. The multiple iterations needed to move through your experiment produce many failures or partial failures that result in learning moments. This learning-from-experience model is key to sustaining your progress. The users' ability to create and share their own kCards, their formatting, and their interactive, experimental design are based on what we know about human nature. kCards utilize proven techniques derived from many studies, with some key sources listed below.


Berkun, S. (2010). The myths of innovation. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media.
Author debunks some commonly held myths about innovation including the myth that breakthrough ideas come in a sudden flash, that innovators work alone, and that people love new ideas.

Denning, P. & Dunham D. (2010). The innovator’s way: Essential practices for successful innovation. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Authors conducted a detailed study of innovators and found eight essential practices including sensing, envisioning, offering, adopting, sustaining, executing, leading, and embodying.

Drucker, P. (2012). Innovation and entrepreneurship. New York, NY: Routledge.
A classic on innovation first published in 1985 in which the author identifies seven major sources for innovation including the unexpected, incongruities, process need, industry/market structures, demographics, changes in perception, and new knowledge.

Dyer, J., Gregersen H. & Christensen, C. (2011). The innovator’s DNA: Mastering the five skills of disruptive innovators. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
Based on a study of nearly 100 highly accomplished innovators and entrepreneurs, the book defines five core skills critical for success that include associating, questioning, observing, networking and experimenting.

Johnson, S. (2011). Where good ideas come from: The natural history of innovation. New York: Riverhead Trade.
Author recaps a five-year study and describes key patterns responsible for generating new ideas such as the “slow hunch” (i.e. that new ideas take a long time and a lot of interaction to develop before they emerge as innovations).

Kolb, D. (1983). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
A classic on how adults learn from experience. Author describes a four-step iterative process – direct experience, observe and reflect, interpret or form abstract idea and test new ideas – as the core to how we learn from experience, and as essential for driving all manner of innovations.

Rodgers, E. (2003). Diffusion of innovations, fifth edition. New York, NY.: Free Press.
An influential book based on a review of 1,500 studies on how new ideas and technologies spread through organizations and cultures. A key finding is that the rate at which an innovation is adopted depends on its relative advantage; compatibility with the current environment; complexity; how hard it is to try out;and how visible it is to members of the group.


Carnegie, D. (1998). How to win friends & influence people. New York, NY: Pocket Books.
A classic in the field of influence providing specific techniques and examples on how to be more likeable, change minds, and lead at work and home.

De Bono, E. (2008). Creativity workout: 62 exercises to unlock your most creative ideas. Berkeley, CA: Ulysses Press.
Author has published widely on creative thinking and is credited with inventing major techniques such as lateral thinking and the six hats. In this book, he provides detailed exercises for using the random words and random numbers techniques.

Harvard Business School Press, Ed. (2008). Power, influence, and persuasion: Sell your ideas and make things happen. Boston, MA: HBS press.
Book draws on some of the best thinking published by the Harvard Business Review on how to persuade and influence. While written for leaders, the techniques such as framing, technical authority, and building credibility are useful for innovators.

Michalko, M. (2006). Thinkertoys Second Edition. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press.
Handbook of more than 30 proven creative-thinking techniques such as SCAMPER, a technique where people examine features of existing products and imagine substitutions, combinations, adaptations, alternative uses, eliminations, and reversals.

Patterson, K. et. als. (2008). Influencer: The power to change anything. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Book presents a framework called the Six Sources of Influence for changing individual and group behavior. Grounded in behavioral science and illustrated with case studies, this resource helps innovators design and implement adoption strategies.