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Microlearning: The Definitive Guide 2024

To the boring and dated ways of education, microlearning is a fun and efficient answer. Find out more about it with this definitive guide.

Table of Contents

Acquiring new skills and gaining new knowledge can be difficult to manage alongside work. However, with the rising competition in markets, skill acquisition has become imperative. Microlearning offers a unique solution to this dilemma and enables professionals to learn on the go efficiently.

What is microlearning?

Microlearning is a learning technique where content is broken down into bite-sized nibbles. These snippets of information are typically a few minutes long and cover only the most essential details. Doing so makes learning more focused and hassle-free.

Previously, learning methodologies required lots of time. They would be often boring and hence, counterproductive in retaining learner engagement. Consequently, this methodology was introduced to combat decreasing participation and receding knowledge retention rates. In fact, a study states that 94% of the learners believe that microlearning is more productive than conventional learning methods. It truly lives up to the slogan 'less is more.

Microlearning theory

The theory was introduced by the German psychologist, Hermann Ebbinghaus in the 1880s. He was the first person to study memory thoroughly and produce concepts such as learning and forgetting curves. The theory states that human memory does not stay consistent throughout their lives. Rather, it increases, recedes, and fluctuates over time. Hence, memory keeping is a constant process depending on content and methods of learning.

Hermann's forgetting and learning curves imbibe this notion well. The forgetting curve shows that people lose over 80% of the knowledge they learn within a month. Furthermore, these curves explain graphically how recalling information becomes easier with time with repetition. They provide a key insight into efficient learning models and their application.

learning/forgetting curve
Image courtesy of Simon Baddeley

Microlearning has two further sub-categories. Firstly is a micro-lesson; it is a small - typically 4 minutes - video session that focuses on a single key issue. The purpose is to stay concise and relevant. Secondly is a micro-course; it is a series of micro-lessons that overlook a single broader topic with each lesson focusing on a specific sub-topic. A micro-course can last up to an hour or more.

A good example of a micro-course is the Master the Art of Screenwriting course on Udemy. The course is an intensive guide of brief video lectures that focus on learning a single skill - screenwriting.

Benefits

Time-saving: The key feature of this methodology is to keep learning for under 10 minutes. Thereby it saves time and enables learners to focus on the most important aspects only. Hence, making learning as efficient as ever.

Improves engagement rate: A constant struggle for the current generation of professionals is decreasing attention spans. With longer lectures, it can be hard to concentrate and hence learn. With the new micro model, learners can engage better without feeling any cognitive overload.

Improves knowledge retention: Microlearning is all about self-directed life-long learning. With its repetitive learning framework, short bits of information are constantly being reminded to learners so they do not forget. Eventually, it improves knowledge retention.

Offers convenient learning: This handy model offers to learn on the go. Since it is difficult for full-time employees to work and learn simultaneously, this approach enables them to juggle them together. Moreover, with mobile access, professionals do not have to strictly keep learning in the office. They can take it anywhere with them and learn at their convenience.

Personalized learning: A major plus point about this approach is that it caters to individual needs. Since the lectures are short and direct, one has a wide yet specific selection of material to choose from. They can simply opt for items they need to learn without wasting any time on unnecessary content skimming.

Challenges

Requires resources: Just because microlearning is convenient does not mean that is easy to maintain. In fact, these programs require expert management. One needs to hire Instructional Designers who have specialization in curating the content and courses. Further, it also requires a periodical update of the content to stay relevant. Such expert maintenance can add to a company's training costs.

Scaling the content: The issue with micro-content is that it produces a lot of content. Since each video focuses on specific bits of information, one needs to keep a library of content to cover all the information. This produces a huge knowledge backlog which requires proper maintenance.

Limited scope: Not every concept can be sorted into microforms. Some suit better long lectures and conventional learning methods. This limits the scope of microlearning.

Time investment constraints: We know well the difficulty of managing work and studies. For employees, there is a time limitation which makes it tough to keep up with the learning content even if it is in micro size. Although microlearning offers an optimal solution, it does not however fully overcome this issue.

Microlearning examples

Microcopy

Microcopy is a form of short and targeted messaging that helps users with learning key information. Think of it like tidbits. Examples include error messages, eCommerce hints, explainer texts around form fields, and general little instructions.

Microlearning videos

Perhaps, videos are the most popular example of the micro approach. These 5 minutes long videos center around specific learning outcomes. Little power burst of knowledge. Examples include whiteboard lectures, text-based animations, and micro-lectures such as TED Talks. These are most useful for demonstrating procedures.

microlearning videos
Image courtesy of TED Talks

Microlearning apps

The very thing that makes this approach accessible on the go is mobile applications. These apps deliver micro lessons in one space that one can access freely without any limitations. Examples include Google, YouTube, TED, and Headspace to name a few.

Microlearning platforms

During this digital age of learning, every learning methodology requires a hosting platform AKA LMS. These platforms have to have certain features for optimal functionality. For instance, video hosting app, record and replay option, content library, peer learning, and communication channels. Some relevant examples include Udemy, Teachfloor, and Coursera.

Infographics

Infographics are graphic visualizations of information and data. These include statistical, informational, timeline, process, geographic, comparison, and list infographics. Some useful sites for infographics are Adobe (for infographic designing) and Statista (for infographic database).

microlearning: infographics
Image courtesy of Adobe

Social media

Social media is a common source of microlearning. It is engaging and people are already on it. One can use this resource to share content on the feeds and share it amongst communities. Some examples include Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter.

Practices of Microlearning

  • Find a perfect fit for your content. Check first if the kind of content you wish to deliver can even fit into microform. Some tasks are complicated and require a detailed guidance method for effective training.  However, it can still offer good complementary training.
  • Reusing and recycling the content will help ease the workload. You can simply rework the structure of the previous material and include it in your new method.
  • Use gamification to improve engagement. Keep things light and provide incentives to employees to participate in the form of awards. These can be quizzes, fun videos, or department competitions.
  • Following Ebbinghaus' learning curve, make sure to include recurring content. Since the very essence of microlearning is periodic repetition to improve retention. Add follow up little quizzes, and precaps to refresh previous information.
  • Infuse a collaborative learning approach to maximize the potential of micro-courses.

Microlearning is the answer

To the boring and dated ways of education, microlearning is the fun and snappy answer. It offers a better quality of learning with improved knowledge retention. With its flexible nature, learners can work and learn together without burning themselves out. Indeed, it has truly upped the game by making training and skill acquisition a matter of mere minutes.

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