What Is Microlearning? What You Need To Know About The Future Of Training
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What Is Microlearning: Methods, Benefits, And Challenges

Twitter, Instagram, and Vine have embraced modern technologies that deliver short bursts of information, much of which is for entertainment, but some of which can be for learning. It has, in fact, become a working theory that Millennials and Twitter are the perfect match – since the input processing capability of that generation might be limited to about 140 characters at a time.

Just One Thing – Microlearning, A Practitioner's Guide
Discover what you need to know about microlearning and move away from cognitive overload in learning, aligning with trends in information processing.

The trend towards brief communication of information seems here with us to stay – and perhaps the deeper question is “which came first, the 140 character attention span or the technologies that put out content in that way?” Short information bursts—headlines, tweets, brief videos—and gaming have shaken up how to effectively deliver information. Welcome to the age of people wanting what they want just when they want it! It’s actually not that new – marketers have been trying to get to the essence of products and solutions for decades, and the “tagline” needs to be memorable and emotive. It reminds me of the life-departing advice of cowboy Curly in the movie City Slickers – “just one thing”.

Enter microlearning. Let’s begin by taking a look at the usual methods and technologies associated with this learning solution?

Microlearning Methods And Technologies

Because each microlearning product serves but one objective and is tightly focused on that objective, there is a somewhat limited range of ways microlearning can be delivered. These can include:

  • One to two question quizzes or polls
  • Infographics
  • Activity notifications from online communities of practice
  • RSS feeds (titles more than content)
  • Flashcard “pushes”
  • Challenge-type interactivities
  • Brief games
  • Microblogging exercises
  • (Brief) videos, including interactive videos
  • Single question case studies
  • Question and response
  • Learner recording of a brief audio or video response to a question

As a result of the short-burst content approach, a microlearning object can prove easier to produce (and require less professional coding/videography), easier to maintain, and easier to test.

Benefits In Delivering Microlearning

Microlearning offers a range of attractive benefits that can overcome some traditional problems with learning design and technologies.

1. Learners In Content Driver Seat

Microlearning can allow learners to feel in charge, giving them the opportunity to pick and choose applicable lessons while guiding themselves.

2. Learners’ Time Is Respected

Respect for the time of learners—so important today—is inherently part of any microlearning approach. Busy professionals may only have a few minutes to learn, process, and apply new information.

3. Repetition In Bursts Drives Retention

Microlearning can be used to deliver allied messages, again and again, reinforcing best practices and allowing for exploration of possibilities (and learner synthesis) over many interactions.

4. Rapid Upgrading

Through most technologies adopted to support microlearning, you gain the ability to send out updates easily and quickly with less commitment of development time.

5. Learner-Created Content

When learners become creators (and teach others), learning is driven deep. Microlearning provides an opportunity for that transformation in roles, through possibilities of creating social feeds, blogs, and immediate feedback to others when in a community or network of learners.

6. Addressing Multiple Intelligences

Microlearning, done well, can vary the modes/methods of delivery, selected based on learner intelligences. Done really well, microlearning can even be a highly personalized experience.

7. Employee Productivity

Microlearning gives learners focused training in a small time frame. The result – more time on the job, less time away from the action.

8. Cost Containment

While there are bits and pieces of paid technologies that can currently be used to create microlearning lessons/objects, many technologies, including those called social media, come with no cost at all.

9. Aligning With Current Behaviors/Habits

Most learners in the modern workforce are used to thumbing the screens of their mobile devices and picking up quick tidbits. Microlearning leverages a pre-existing behavior, not putting learners out of their environment or the development of new habits.

Risks And Challenges In Delivering Microlearning

When you determine to adopt a microlearning approach to a body of knowledge and behavioral change, there are, of course, risks that arise.

1. Casual Learners

When learners know that the encounters are going to end within a short time, they may not fully process the content delivered.

2. Technology Barriers

Since much microlearning is best delivered through web technologies, often optimized for smartphone or tablets, there is a clear mandate to make sure that the learner audience is comfortable with the technologies.

3. Incoherence / Learning Fragments

If the Instructional Designer doesn’t adapt to the necessary different thinking about short, full-context learning objects, microlearning could lead to a lot of head shaking and leave learners feeling they don’t have enough details to address newest offerings.

4. Overfocus

I.e., lack of cognitive synthesis: While not specific to microlearning, there is a risk that learners will not be able to see the big picture when interacting, either on a scheduled or on-demand basis, with a series of microlearning lessons. Too many trees can leave the forest picture somewhat out of focus.

Tips For Microlearning Success

Finally, here are some ways to boost your learners’ engagement and performance following a microlearning approach:

  1. Keep it to just one thing
    Identify one, and only one, learning outcome per microlearning object or lesson.
  2. Cut the clutter
    Don’t overwhelm with information that can be sought and processed from other sources. Allow the learner to self-enrich a microlearning experience with web searches, online forums, etc. Point the way if that seems relevant to organizational standards.
  3. Keep it brief
    Keep each microlearning lesson and encounters very brief – less than 5 minutes in duration.
  4. Share that learning took place
    Find a way to validate knowledge transfer or behavioral change. Invite those exhibiting right experiences to share best practices as their proof of ability or learning.
  5. Bring in coaching
    Provide ways for those in the know to share and coach those who are in the process of learning.
  6. Identify the “why”
    Don’t neglect to share with the learners why the information in the microlearning lesson/object is important to their personal development and/ or work success. So much of learning retention relies on evoking emotion and creating deep rationales for incorporating the information and/or changing the behavior.
  7. Vary your methods
    Find ways to deliver a range of microlearning experiences, leveraging simple interactions, games, video, quizzes, and text.

If you want to learn more about the magical world of microlearning, download the eBook Just One Thing – Microlearning, A Practitioner's Guide.

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