5 Reasons Why We Are Still Talking About Microlearning In 2018
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Microlearning In 2018: Why It Still Concerns Us

The term ‘microlearning’ never stops appearing on my LinkedIn feed, and you would be hard pushed to find a learning tech conference this year without a dedicated segment on microlearning. In short (excuse the pun), microlearning is the buzzword "du jour" in the digital learning sector.

A Natural Evolution?

It made me wonder if I was missing something. We are simply talking about short to-the-point learning resources. Right? Isn’t this just a case of keeping up with global digital content trends?

When I began my career as an Instructional Designer many years ago, the common currency was ‘an hour’ of eLearning. That was the unit. That’s how it was structured and priced. I recall a conversation with one client who wondered whether learners might feel disappointed or short-changed if the learning unit was only 20 minutes.

In those early days, I think the standard hour was probably derived from the lecture format and, in some cases, to meet the needs of accreditation bodies that equate one hour of learning with one CPD credit.

When we apply new technologies to traditional formats, a common pitfall is to incorporate the good, the bad and the ugly into the new paradigm. The meandering hour of eLearning wasn’t an amazing learning experience. Most learning professionals are familiar with the attention curve that shows learner engagement declining rapidly after the first 10 minutes of a one-hour lecture. Multiple page-turns later, just as the attention span starts to fade, a learner might move past the introduction section and onto the main event.

Fast-forward a few decades and things have changed. One billion videos are watched on YouTube every day and 3.5 billion Google searches are performed each day. People can get answers instantly.

So, now, we produce short focused units of learning. We don’t tolerate long-winded eLearning. Not only does this development remedy the attention curve issue, it is well suited to learning at the point of need, helps to reduce cognitive overload and is convenient and accessible for the mobile learner. It's also better for learning designers. Microlearning is easier to maintain and update because you can focus only on those resources that need to be changed. The granularity of content also supports reusability, allowing you to repurpose topics in different contexts.

It’s a natural evolution fuelled by common sense. So, why are we talking about it so much?

5 Reasons To Keep Talking About Microlearning

I have a few theories as to why this term continues to trend.

1. We Are Exploring The Possibilities That Microlearning Brings, Sharing Use Cases And New Applications

For example, we see more in-context microlearning resources embedded in systems for learners to access at the point of need and we see microlearning form a key component in campaign-based learning. As a professional community, we need to share what’s working.

2. We Need Clarity About What Microlearning Can Deliver

It is no holy grail. The answers to all L&D challenges do not lie in chopping existing content into shorter learning units. There needs to be a clear and purposeful strategy for leveraging microlearning in new initiatives.

3. We Are Evangelizing

In spite of a compelling case for going micro, learning professionals are still trying to convince some stakeholders that shorter is better for learner engagement.

4. We Are Grappling With The Challenge Of Scaffolding Learning And Building Narrative And Continuity When Tackling Large And Complex Topics

This is where the ‘hour’ of eLearning played well.

5. The Trend To Microlearning Is Accompanied By A Trend To Video Format (Although The Two Are Not Synonymous)

We are concerned about the changing skillset for learning designers and producers with increasing use of video and multimedia content. We see a shift from instructional writing for the written format to script writing for the multimedia format. We need more directorial skills, better visual communication skills, and higher production values.

The Challenge Remains

Microlearning is a positive development for learner engagement, for mobile learners and as a forcing function in getting to the point quickly, however, the biggest challenge to learning professionals persists… how do we create learning solutions that achieve the desired impact for the learner and on the business? All the more reason to keep talking about this important addition to the learning designer’s toolkit!

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