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  • Writer's pictureMichael Simon

Incorporating Miller’s Law into Software Training

In the ever-evolving landscape of technology, software training plays a crucial role in empowering individuals and organizations to harness the full potential of digital tools, especially as training is a pillar of successful change management. However, the complexity of software systems presents a huge obstacle to a successful training of the new software, as its complexity can often overwhelm learners, who often have to learn numerous features, functions, and workflows, hindering their ability to grasp and retain essential information, or even basic functionality.

Unfortunately, traditional training approaches simply inundate learners with vast amounts of information in a single session, exacerbating these challenges, overwhelming the learner’s working memory and impeding learning progress, if not outright causing mental fatigue to the learner. Moreover, new users then find themselves struggling with the new software, potentially breeding change resistance, short and/or long-term adoption issues and diminished efficiency gains and ROI.


One of the most successful ways to address the strategic challenge innate to new user software training is by way of applying Miller's Law, with its focus on cognitive chunking, making training efforts more accessible, engaging, and effective.

For those not familiar with Miller's Law, originated by psychologist George A. Miller in 1956, posits that the average person can hold about seven items in their working memory at once. This principle underscores the limitations of cognitive processing and highlights the importance of breaking down information into smaller, more manageable chunks for optimal retention and comprehension.

Essentially, Miller's Law explains why you are unable to recall (without assistance) most of what you learn in a typical training session, even if said session was full of critical information delivered well by the instructor.


By applying Miller's Law to software training, trainers can transform the learning experience, making it more accessible, efficient, and enjoyable for participants. Here's how Miller's Law can be integrated into software training:


1.    Chunking Information: Break down software features and functionalities into smaller, coherent chunks of information. Focus on teaching one concept or task at a time, such as how to enter a new prospect into the CRM. Allow the learners to grasp each concept fully before moving on to the next, not falling into the trap of "we're running behind on time" and cutting short the learning of that concept. If it's important enough to train to it, it's important enough to give it the necessary time.

2.    Prioritize Essential Skills: Identify the most critical skills and workflows that learners need to master to effectively use the software. Prioritize these skills in the training curriculum, ensuring that learners focus on mastering the foundational elements before exploring more advanced topics. The emphasis being most critical, with the danger being everything is critical. Often trainers will need to make decisions or have critical conversations with leadership about what makes the cut as "need to know" vs "nice to know".

3.    Interactive Learning Activities: Incorporate interactive learning activities, such as hands-on exercises, simulations, and case studies, to reinforce learning and promote interactive engagement. Provide opportunities for learners to apply newly acquired knowledge in a realistic context, enhancing comprehension and retention. This provides new users the opportunity to not only break up cadence of the training session, but become active and reinforce what they've just learned, committing it to their long-term memory.  The more effortful the activity on the part of the learner, the greater their chance of transitioning that information over to their long-term memory (a.k.a. being able to recall it at a later point, when needed).

4.    Modular Training Modules: Structure the training program into modular modules or sessions, each focusing on a specific aspect of the software. Traditionally, implementations tend to give new user training a somewhat condensed delivery window, making the modular approach challenging. However, finding ways to modularize within even a condensed window pays dividends for the new users, as this modular approach allows learners to progress at their own pace, revisiting topics as needed and reinforcing their understanding of key concepts.

5.    Visual Aids and Demonstrations: Utilize visual aids, demonstrations, and multimedia resources to supplement textual explanations and enhance understanding. Visual representations of software interfaces, workflows, and processes can facilitate comprehension and serve as valuable reference materials for learners, as it potentially eases cognition for the new users.

6.    Just-In-Time Learning: Offer just-in-time learning resources and support materials that learners can access on-demand as they encounter challenges or need clarification while using the software. Provide quick-reference guides (QRGs), video tutorials, and FAQs to support continuous learning and problem-solving. This can potentially ease learning anxiety with new users, knowing there's a cache of support materials available to them in case they don't fully grasp all the topical details, struggle to remember specifics, or even don't use certain functionality until considerable time as passed after training.

7.    Formative Assessment and Feedback: Integrate formative assessment strategies, such as quizzes, interactive exercises, featuring quizzes to gauge learner progress and reinforce learning objectives. Provide constructive feedback and guidance to learners, identifying areas for further reinforcement style sessions and offering additional support as needed.


Incorporating the principles of Miller's Law into new user software training can effectively, if not dramatically shift the way organizations approach learning and development in the digital age. By breaking down complex software systems into short manageable chunks, prioritizing truly essential skills, and promoting interactive engagement, instructors can enhance learning outcomes, empower new users, and drive organizational success. By leveraging Miller's Law, companies can unlock the full potential of software training, equipping employees with the knowledge and skills they need to thrive in today's technology-driven world.

Michael Simon, Principal Consultant with BlackFin Group who runs BlackFin University leadership development program. Michael is nationally recognized as a senior training and learning executive. During Michael’s decades of learning and development he has been responsible for the development and delivery of strategic training and learning programs with Ellie Mae, Accenture World-Wide, TD Bank, UBS, PennyMac, AmeriHome, and University Bank in Michigan. For more information on how we can help contact

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