• Mark Gash

What is micro-learning and why should you care?

Everybody loves a good buzzword. Something we can throw around in meetings to impress our peers or use to sell our services in a shiny new wrapper. But what is micro learning? Is it eLearning that’s carried out in a short amount of time? Is it a video showing you how to boil an egg? Is it a fact you read on a piece of paper inside a cheap Christmas cracker?

There was a time when most of what you learned in school was accumulated by reading books and staring at a blackboard. It wasn’t called paper-based learning, it was just learning. Then computers happened and suddenly anything we learned on a screen was labelled as eLearning. Today we find kids and adults alike learning almost everything on devices. News, entertainment, recipes, how to change a lightbulb on your car - do you go into town to buy a paper, a TV guide, Jamie Oliver’s latest and a Haynes manual? Of course not, you simply search for it on your phone and ‘Hey presto!’, you’ve learned something. Or as it’s on a screen, have you, in fact, eLearned something? Actually, there’s a chance you’ve just engaged in a bit of micro-learning.

To be clear, we’re talking here about micro-learning in the realm of eLearning. For the record, the term can also be applied to non-screen-based learning but as adaptiVLE are in the business of eLearning, that’s the route we’re going with this. Let’s simplify and say that eLearning is any form of learning carried out on screens (there are probably some assessments in there and a bit of competency matching but that all depends how good your instructional designers are). If you spend an hour engrossed in an online First Aid course, there’s a good chance that qualifies as a nice chunk of eLearning. Especially if in 3 months’ time you can still remember how to perform CPR. However, you can spend that same hour scrolling through Facebook and learn absolutely nothing. So eLearning has to have some sort of benefit - a deliberate attempt to teach lessons or at least impart some useful information. If there are checks in place to assess your understanding of that information at the end of the session, all the better.

So you’re staring at a screen, fingers ready to click some interactive elements, brain poised to learn something - how long is this piece of eLearning going to last? There’s a lot of debate over course length versus the attention span of your audience. You could hit them with dry 10 facts in 2 minutes or bulk out those 10 facts with animations over the course of an hour - which is more effective? Arguments could be made for and against but the point is that you can’t apply set rules as to the timed length of a piece of eLearning.

Which brings us to microlearning. The clue in the title signposts us to the fact that micro learning is smaller than your standard eLearning session. But as we don’t have a standard time length for an eLearning session, then the only way micro learning makes sense is if we differentiate it by the scope of the content.

An eLearning course would generally set out a list of learning aims and objectives, then jump through various hoops in an attempt to engage with the audience in the hopes they will gain some new knowledge or skills. So if a typical eLearning course has many points to demonstrate, we could think of micro-learning as a way to teach your audience a single, concise lesson. Don’t get bogged down in background information or the whys and wherefores surrounding the point you’re trying to make. That’s not to say you shouldn’t make an effort to be engaging - you still need to ensure that your lesson is effective.

A good way to approach micro-learning is to treat it as a question and answer scenario. Your audience needs the answer to a specific problem, for example, how to install a car headlight in a 2005 Ford Mondeo. They don’t need to take a course that explains all about Henry Ford, the evolution of the internal combustion engine and the rise and fall of the sunroof. All they want is an easily digestible - dare we say bitesize? - guide to changing a bulb. How you present the information is almost irrelevant as long as the end result is that your audience walk away with the answer they were looking for.

You could present a step-by-step pictorial. You might want to make an explainer video. Pull out all the stops and go for maximum engagement by showing them a CGI animated car, then present them with a variety of tools with which they can attempt to change the headlight in real-time. The delivery method really doesn’t matter, it’s the end result you’re going for.

Why should you care about microlearning?

This quick, one-and-done approach makes micro learning perfect for point-of-need, just-in-time learning. Deliver lessons and tutorials via a mobile or tablet, so that users who encounter problems during their work can quickly access company-approved micro learning content, allowing them to continue their work virtually uninterrupted.

Micro-learning can also be used to reinforce lessons learned in larger-scale learning activities, either on or offline. Studies show that our natural tendency to forget things means that around 80% of what we learn in a formal training environment could be forgotten in just a few days, unless we’re prompted to regularly recall it. Microlearning comes into its own here, as you can set push notifications to engage your audience in short-form quizzes, videos and modules which force them to retrieve the knowledge you so desperately want them to retain.

It can even be used as a pre-curser to more in-depth training. By reversing the above scenario, you can use micro learning to test your staff’s knowledge, identifying gaps which can be plugged with further learning.

Micro-learning probably won’t replace your current training programme and you shouldn’t treat it as a shortcut to properly training your staff but it definitely has its uses.

If you want to find out more about how micro-learning can help your organisation, get in touch!

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