What’s the deal with microlearning?
Welcome to the latest edition of Learning Included!
We’ve got a few goodies to share this week on the topic of microlearning.
It’s been a bit of a buzzword for a while now, and we’ve worked on a few microlearning courses over the years. The idea is that short focused bursts of learning can fit better into a learner’s busy working day (5 minutes on your phone between meetings, for example). And not only that, but breaking learning into bite-size chunks can help make learning more effective and increase retention.
We’ve seen some really good examples. But there’s a balance to be struck, and obviously reducing everything to micro-nuggets of learning content isn’t the right answer in many cases.
In our view, an effective microlearning course does the following:
- It fits seamlessly into a learner’s daily workflow, so they don’t need to carve out time specifically for it;
- It’s based on simple and/or narrowly-focused topics;
- It promotes voluntary participation by making the learning content available at time of need (just-in-time learning rather than just-in-case learning);
- It’s based on the research into how people actually learn, so it can be optimised to help learners develop and retain the knowledge they need;
- It’s part of a learning programme designed to develop deep learning of new skills through practical activities and challenges and opportunities for more extended learning.
- We’ve written a short primer on microlearning, which includes some of what we see as its pros and cons, and where it’s most helpfully deployed.
As well as our own thoughts, we’ve also pulled together some other reading on the history of microlearning and the science behind its effectiveness, and links to a couple of the projects we’ve worked on.
We hope you enjoy!
What is microlearning?
In this 3 min read we take a look at the pros and cons of the microlearning methodology. Sure, shorter learning sessions spread over time are more effective at building long-term memory than a smaller number of marathon sessions, but we suggest approaching it with a critical eye. We need to be careful that the promise of microlearning doesn’t leave the impression that there are short-cuts to learning.
The history of microlearning
This piece by microlearning platform, EdApp, explores how microlearning’s ascent since its (surprisingly early) beginnings is attributable to shifts in technology and digital culture. It also cites a study that demonstrates the impact of adopting a microlearning approach in terms of learner recall and performance in final assessments.
The science behind microlearning effectiveness
Axonify’s CLO, JD Dillon, takes a look at the learning science that underpins the microlearning methodology and how it addresses some of the shortcomings in more traditionally structured courses.
Specifically, Dillon points to the challenges L&D teams face in terms of the volume of knowledge, skills and information they need to cover in their training initiatives vs. the scarce amount of time employees have to process it.
This accessibility barrier fosters what Dillon calls the “course mindset” – the assumption that people need to complete lengthy training programmes to acquire new skills, knowledge or information. This default mindset risks overlooking learning strategies that can address learners’ time constraints, including spaced repetition and retrieval practice.
Interestingly, Dillon’s observations vibe nicely with the principles for effective learning we identified in our ebook.
Numbers don’t lie
This post by Shift eLearning pulls out some interesting stats that speak to the benefits of taking a microlearning approach
- It boosts engagement by 50%
- It’s 17% more efficient than longer form modes of teaching and instruction
- Increases course development time by 300%
As we mentioned earlier, numbers like this are powerful, but they don’t build a case for microlearning in and of themselves. For example, it’s not so great if learners need a holistic view of the subject matter, and need to be able to connect disparate elements into one coherent picture.
Our experience …
We’ve worked on some wonderful and innovative microlearning products over the last couple of years and it’s been fascinating to explore how the approach can be applied to a wide variety of use cases. Here are a couple of examples:
Opus’ platform delivers text-message based training to frontline employees. Their library includes micro courses on Food Safety, Sexual Harassment and COVID Safety. Content is delivered via WhatsApp or SMS straight to employee’s devices. It’s a fascinating learning design challenge, exploring how such a familiar format can be leveraged to deliver applicable and impactful training.
We worked with Edwin to develop a conversational microlearning approach that provides an easy, practical, and habit-forming way to help organisations change what they do about cybersecurity, not just what they know. This is a case of using microlearning to develop and sustain positive behaviours, as well as transfer knowledge and information.
Read more about this project in our case study here.
What we’re up to
👉️ On April 23rd we’ll be talking about the environmental dimension of Inclusive Learning Experience Design (ILXD) and how it relates to the concept of learning spaces at the LXDCon conference.
👉️ On April 27th we’ll be co-hosting an LXD Meetup exploring how we, as a learning design community, might co-create solutions that are more inclusive. Find out more about the event here.
See you in a couple of weeks for the next instalment of Learning Included!
All the best,
The LearnJam Team