The How-To Guide For Creating Successful Microlearning

Learn How To Create Successful Microlearning
Summary: With a growing trend for everything “on-demand,” eLearners expect faster and shorter learning experiences too. One way for Instructional Designers to fulfill that need is through microlearning. But what exactly is microlearning, and how should you go about successfully designing micro-courses?

Learn How To Create Successful Microlearning

We explore these questions in detail below and provide eLearning course designers 8 simple principles for creating successful microlearning.

Common Microlearning Misconceptions

  • Myth 1
    Microlearning is the latest trend in eLearning. Wrong! Microlearning isn’t a new idea. While the eLearning company Grovo received an official patent on the word “Microlearning®” in 2017, the history of the concept of microlearning dates back even further. In fact, before Grovo received its patent, a competitor, Franklin Covey Co., held that same patent since 2006, until it expired in 2017.
  • Myth 2
    Many Instructional Designers new to the field of creating micro-courses think that microlearning is all about short videos and animated content: infographics, flowcharts, presentation slides. It is not! While these are a few elements that a microlearning course may contain, they don’t define microlearning.
  • Myth 3
    Another common misconception about this powerful eLearning approach is that it is a shorter version of an existing module. As a result, many course developers take their 500-slide courses (which they have been using for years!), pair it down to 15 screens and think they’ve developed a microlearning version of their course. Not true! While the length of content certainly defines microlearning, it’s not enough to use regurgitated, abridged content and call it a “microlearning” module!

8 Principles To Follow To Create Successful Microlearning

Microlearning is comparable to a relay race as opposed to a marathon. While learners don’t learn everything about the subject in a single, long lesson, each microlearning “module,” like each leg of a relay sprint, brings them closer to the finish line. So, like a relay race coach, Instructional Designers must plan each “sprint” carefully in order to deliver successful microlearning objectives.

Here are 8 principles that will guide you to create successful microlearning experiences for your learners.

1. Start At The Finish Line

Don’t start with content designing. Instead, take a step back to see how things look once learners consume your content. What will your course have achieved? What challenge or problem will your clients/stakeholders have addressed? How will you measure success? What behavioral traits would you have changed—that needed changing, reinforcing or imparting?

Now, it’s time to work your way forward!

2. Create Your Microlearning Lesson Plans

You now know what learners want. It’s time to decide how your learning plans will deliver on those needs. This step is much like creating traditional learning content. However, the fact that you don’t have the luxury of time on your hand will largely influence your choice of content.

Micro-learners learn differently, so resist the urge to stick with traditional lesson plan-building approaches where you knit all related content into a single module. Instead, plan lessons around “micro-concepts”—logically deconstructing and organizing related theories or principles that would typically form a single lesson.

3. Chunk It Up

Here’s where the rubber hits the road to successful microlearning development. Your 3-hour lesson plan may have three micro-concepts. However, that doesn’t mean your micro-learners have an hour to go through each microlearning module.

Take guidance from the cognitive load theory by Richard Atkinson and Richard Shiffrin, proposed in 1968, which essentially states that learners have limited mental “bandwidth.” Therefore, learners will only successfully receive, process, understand and retain limited amounts of new information. Typically, microlearning modules must not exceed five to ten minutes in length. Make “sometimes less is really more” your guiding principle when creating bite-sized micro-modules.

4. Spread Microlearning Out

This principle is rooted in German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus’s “Forgetting Curve," which states that the typical learner forgets a large amount of recently learned new content shortly after being exposed to such content.

So, instead of using the “one and done” approach (learn one micro-module and move onto the next one!), organize your microlearning like a long TV serial: Teach a concept once, and then have a review/recap of it in the next several lessons. Ideally, have learners revisit material from prior micro-modules in 2 days, 2 weeks and 2 months so they receive “learning boosts” over that time.

5. Use A Mix Of Mediums

Every learner learns differently. That’s why psychologists have tagged learners into 4 broad learning styles: visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic. To take advantage of the science behind learning styles, design your microlearning content using a mix of media, such as text, videos, infographics, and audio files.

6. Make It Mobile

Building on the previous principle, choose the formats of your microlearning content carefully. Since micro-learners typically use mobile devices to “learn on the go,” your audio/video and graphics files must take that into consideration. Files/modules that take too long to download, open or refresh will discourage learners from consuming them.

7. Reinforce And Test Frequently

One way to ensure that your micro-content delivers its learning objectives is to frequently verify that the learner has, in fact, understood and retained concepts from the microlearning module. Because each module is comparably shorter than traditional learning content, Instructional Designers would do well to inject frequent revisions and reinforcements along the way.

In a 10-minute module, having a 1-minute test and a 1-minute recap will go a long way to ensuring learners retain content in their long-term memory.

8. Don’t Make It Too Easy

Just because microlearning revolves around shorter content modules, doesn’t mean Instructional Designers must oversimplify concepts and principles. Don’t dumb it down just because of time constraints. That’ll defeat the objective of quickly imparting essential knowledge on the subject matter.

One way to not oversimplify complex subject matter and still teach multifaceted topics in short bursts is to revisit the content itself. Because a picture paints a thousand words, perhaps you can substitute five slides of intense text into a single infographic or a 5-minute video that illustrates the concept or principle discussed.

Another aspect of this principle of successful microlearning is to not deliberately make quizzes and assessments simpler for learners to ace. And the best way to assess if a learner has understood the complex ideas that the microlearning modules attempted to impart is to administer equally challenging tests and assessments that gauge that understanding.

Smaller Footprint, Bigger Impact

Translated literally, "micro" (small) and "learning" (knowledge, understanding, studying) might be a misnomer, given the huge impact that this learning process can have on how eLearners acquire new knowledge and skills. However, decades of irrefutable psychological research define the underlying theories and principles of microlearning.

The 8 principles for successful microlearning development, discussed above, revolve around how the human brain works, how it learns, understands, and retains new concepts and ideas. Even though micro-courses come with a small footprint, they have a big impact on learning ability.

If you want to learn more about designing successful eLearning solutions, get a copy of the Instructional Design for eLearning: Essential guide for designing successful eLearning courses book.