Learn Better Microlearning Product Science

7 Learning Science Principles Behind the New Grovo

Written by Alex Khurgin

Two weeks ago, Grovo released a redesigned and greatly expanded version of its microlearning platform. Our product development process was largely an exercise in listening, not only to the challenges, ideas, and feedback of our customers, but to decades of scientific research into what makes learning effective.

The result is a platform with learning-science baked into its foundation: technology for delivering the right learning experiences at the right time, a content library of rich, interactive lessons, and a creation tool that integrates best practices into lesson templates. Our goal was to allow those without a learning background to deliver effective learning experiences and to empower experienced learning professionals to drive massive improvements in engagement, retention, and application.

Here are 7 of the learning science principles that helped shape our development process:

1. Working memory is limited in duration and capacity.1,2

The principle
People learn by connecting new information in their working memory to what they already know. Information stored in working memory and not rehearsed is lost within 30 seconds, and the capacity of working memory is limited to only a small number of elements (between 4 and 7).

How we built it into Grovo
The Grovo platform is built to create and consume microlearning: short, focused experiences that don’t overload working memory.

Each Grovo lesson is self-paced and broken up into interactive cards that take 10-30 seconds each to complete.

This allows learners the time to properly digest new information, reflect on it, and connect it to what they already know before moving on.

A 4-minute Grovo lesson broken up into 16 cards

2. Cognitive load is also limited, and it is affected by the learning interface.3

The principle
Learning materials require effort and attention to process. Poorly designed materials in poorly designed interfaces cut into the processing of the material itself. As Julie Dirksen writes in Design for How People Learn, “one of the main functions of learning design is the ruthless management of cognitive load.”

How we built it into Grovo
The learner homepage is designed to immediately pull employees into a learning experience with minimal clicking. Once they’re in, the immersive lesson player helps learners tune out distractions. The player is full-screen with a subtle progress bar and translucent buttons. Lessons are also designed without extraneous imagery that can distract learners from the subject matter.

The learner homepage is personalized for every employee

3. The beginning and end of an experience is more memorable than the middle.4

The principle
Humans exhibit both a primacy and recency bias, i.e. they pay more attention to and remember better what happens at the beginning and end of an experience. Short, focused lessons have more memorable, attention-grabbing beginnings and ends than a single, lengthy event in which the same material is presented all at once.

How we built it into Grovo
Breaking up learning material into digestible chunks is a great way to ensure that people pay attention and remember each part. Grovo’s new content library and content creation tool allows you to take this principle even further.

Rather than presenting information in a three-minute video, Grovo facilitates card-based learning. A Grovo lesson may begin with a reflection question, followed by a short video that adds context, followed by a series of gifs showing different examples, followed by an activity, and ending with a call-to-action. Each change in format primes attention.

4. Spaced learning fights forgetting.5,6

The principle
One of the oldest discoveries in the science of learning is that new knowledge and skills can rapidly fade unless they are consciously reviewed. A meta-analysis of 254 studies found that spacing learning and practice across weeks or months leads to optimal recall and retention.

How we built it into Grovo
The campaigns feature in Grovo lets you plan out multi-week spaced learning programs based on pre-determined moments of need like new hire onboarding, first-time managers, and more.

Learners can also quickly search for relevant microlearning experiences as they encounter recurring challenges, like starting a new project or conducting a candidate interviews. The result is spaced-learning based on the natural cycle of employee behaviors.


The Campaigns feature in Grovo lets you space learning out over time


5. Sleep helps consolidate memories (i.e. moves them from short to long term).7

The principle
Sleep, especially REM sleep, makes memories more stable. As Benedict Carey writes in How We Learn, “you will learn nothing if you don’t rest and sleep at the end of a long day’s training. Memories after sleep are resilient to disruption.”

How we built it into Grovo
Mass instruction events in which everything is delivered at once don’t just fail to capitalize on the spacing effect–they also bypass the benefits of sleep.

Grovo allows admins to assign daily or spaced microlearning so that employees learn for 5 to 10 minutes at a time, and take full advantage of the reflection, conversation, and of course, sleep, that occurs between sessions.

5. Multimedia design can aid or inhibit learning.8

The principle
People learn more deeply from words and images together, rather than words alone. But how those words and images are organized makes all the difference in whether they serve to aid or further confuse learners. Research conducted by Richard Mayer identified 12 principles for successful multimedia learning.

How we built it into Grovo
Mayer’s multimedia principles are the backbone of Grovo’s lesson production process, from making sure that extraneous words and images are excluded, to adding cues that highlight the most important material, to using a conversational rather than formal style of narration.

6. Intrinsic motivation leads to better learning.9

The principle
Motivated learners pay more attention and expend more effort and energy while learning. When learners are intrinsically motivated to learn, rather than externally motivated by rewards (e.g. points for completing a course), they learn more effectively.

How we built it into Grovo
Grovo allows you to time learning to a moment of need when someone is intrinsically motivated to change their behaviors.

Through the Groups feature, you can automate the assignment of learning experiences based on an unlimited number of employee attributes, needs, or career milestones. For example, you can trigger an onboarding training to be sent to all new engineering managers in Paris during their second week on the job.

For more immediate points of need, learners can quickly find short lessons in the Grovo library right when they are motivated to learn something new or solve a problem.

7. Stories are psychology privileged.10

The principle
Stories are easier for people to pay attention to, comprehend, and remember than other information. Stories have an element of causality (“this happened, then that happened”) that gives people something to “latch onto” while listening, and serves as a cue for later recall.

How we built it into Grovo
Grovo lessons routinely integrate stories, especially at the start. Here is a story that introduces a lesson on how to ensure a solution is working after it has been implemented

If you’d like to see how these and other learning principles have been woven into Grovo’s new all-in-one microlearning platform, we’d love to give you a demo. Simply request one here and we’ll set it up!


  1. Working memory. Alan Baddeley Science, New Series, Vol. 255, No. 5044. (Jan. 31, 1992), pp. 556-559.
  2. The magical number 4 in short-term memory: a reconsideration of mental storage capacity. Cowan N. Behav Brain Sci. 2001 Feb;24(1):87-114; discussion 114-85.
  3. Cognitive load during problem solving: Effects on learning. Sweller, John. Cognitive Science Volume 12, Issue 2, April–June 1988, Pages 257–285
  4. Primacy Versus Recency in a Quantitative Model: Activity is the Critical Distinction. Greene, Anthony J. et al. Learn Mem. 2000 Jan; 7(1): 48–5
  5. Distributed practice in verbal recall tasks: A review and quantitative synthesis. Cepeda NJ. Psychol Bull. 2006 May;132(3):354-80.
  6. Expanding retrieval practice promotes short-term retention, but equally spaced retrieval enhances long-term retention. Karpicke, JD. et al. J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 2007 Jul;33(4):704-19.
  7. Interfering with Theories of Sleep and Memory: Sleep, Declarative Memory, and Associative Interference. Ellenbogen, Jeffrey M. et al. Current Biology, Volume 16, Issue 13 , 1290 – 1294
  8. Research-Based Principles for Designing Multimedia Instruction. Mayer, Richard E.
  9. The concept of flow. Nakamura J., & Czsikszentmihalyi, M. Oxford handbook of positive psychology, 2009, 89-105.
  10. Experiments on story comprehension and recall. Bower, G. H. Discourse Processes, 1978, 1, 211–231.