What is Microlearning?
We recently gave a talk at Learning Technologies 2018 on microlearning; what it is, why it's become a topic of conversation and, importantly, how you make it a success. This post summarises these key topics.
We define microlearning as a way of teaching and delivering content to learners in bite-sized (3-5 minutes) bursts at the point of need and with a focused and specific learning outcome. The learner is in control of what and when (s)he's learning. This makes it particularly easy to apply on the job.
Think about things you can quickly consume (read, watch, listen) and that only takes a few minutes. To make a very practical analogy, your Twitter feed would be an example of this behaviour as would receiving the news updates through Google in the morning.
Josh Bersin makes a good point of how microlearning fits into the overall learning environment and also provides a nice distinction between micro and macrolearning.
Macro-learning is something we do when we want to truly learn a whole new area. If you want to learn all about crypto currencies, lithium-ion batteries or content marketing you are going to have to commit some serious time.
Micro and macrolearning really complement and reinforce each other throughout the overall learning journey as the above image illustrates.
Why has microlearning suddenly become 'a thing'?
We've covered this aspect in an insights paper and we'll sum up the main reasons why micro and mobile learning is important here again:
- 50% of the global workforce will be mobile
- 50% of the US workforce will be made up of freelancers
- 50% of the global workforce will be made up of millennials (which grows to 75% by 2030)
Learning and development opportunities are not only the most important consideration for millennials when choosing a job. Millennials (and pretty much all of us these days) use their smartphones for all their needs, and they expect the same convenience from on-the-job training and communication tools. The installed smartphone base is now 2.5X greater than PCs.
In an increasingly hectic, and interrupted workday, Deloitte research shows that employees take less than 25 minutes of time to actually slow down and learn on a weekly basis. So if you're trying to pump hour-long training courses in this environment - good luck!
Key characteristics of Microlearning
We've gathered a fair amount of experience in the field of microlearning during the last few years, working with companies like Uber and covering lots of different use cases with clients in various markets. Below are our top tips for becoming successful with microlearning and, by definition, it also provides our practical definition of what microlearning really is.
1. Design your microlearning for mobile
Mobile learning is the concept of using technology to learn at the point of need. It's perfectly positioned to support the concept of microlearning, which is all about delivering content in specific bursts, on a specific topic, at the discretion of the learner. It's not a coincidence that microlearning and mobile learning are becoming more and more popular at the same time; they are inseparable. When you do design your learning, think about how people use their mobile phones rather than how your existing elearning is structured. Build on familiar and intuitive behaviour so that you don't have to teach the learner to use the learning tool on top of everything else.
2. Make it easy to get started...and to keep learning
Learners will decide in 4-5 clicks whether your learning platform is worth the effort. Map out the process of getting started - how many steps are involved? Ensure that learners can stay logged into the learning platform once they’ve identified themselves through the initial activation process - they shouldn’t have to do this more than once. Most elearning platforms out there are not easy to log in to and they will log you out after. This is not compatible with the very notion of microlearning, which requires very easy access.
3. Keep it concise, keep it relevant
In the words of Josh Bersin, “today’s employees are overwhelmed, distracted, and impatient”. This means that your learners will take 5-10 seconds to decide whether to proceed with training, based on whether it looks relevant and will fit into their busy schedules. In our experience, the sweet spot for a microlearning lesson is between 3 to 5 minutes long.
4. Use videos
We all love videos, so make sure your microlearning incorporate them. The “keep it concise” rule applies here too: attention spans won’t stretch to more than 2 minutes. Use real life situations that your learners can relate to and improve knowledge retention by using on screen text and graphics to highlight main takeaways. Finally, add subtitles to make it easy for learners who don’t want to enable audio on a crowded train when they forgot their headphones. If you want to find out more about creating great microlearning videos, we've created a three-part series of blog posts on this topic and you can find the first part here.
5. Use a light-hearted, conversational tone
The words ‘Corporate Training’ set off alarm bells for most people – they’re expecting something dull and boring. Use interactivity, a conversational style, and a dash of humour to challenge these perceptions. You need to create a strong pull-effect to draw learners in on a regular basis. Break down all the traditional barriers.
6. Make learning a daily habit
Micro-learning is more than a buzzword. It’s the idea that corporate training should reflect how we consume information - in short bursts, at the point of need, from our smartphones, on the District line tube. For micro-learning to be effective in terms of behaviour change and driving business results, it has to be done regularly. So, provide snippets of useful information and short, relevant courses that your learners can dip into. When they check into their microlearning, they should always find new, interesting content.
7. Make use of 'spaced repetition'
The concept of Spaced Repetition means that we learn by being exposed to new skills and ideas over time, with spacing and questioning in between. Subsequent input of new knowledge is quickly forgotten, and only if we repeat the process over time do we halt the decrease in retention. In the origional Ebbinghaus experiment, he studied the ability for students to memorise highly technical anatomical knowledge, and found that only by repeating the process could students obtain any real ability to remember.
The research also showed that when we repeat information, with spaced intervals between, and we ask people questions to force us to retrieve information we create new learning paths. It's the same way you learn on the job by repeating task and questioning information.
8. Encourage, and enable, ‘binge-learning’
We have found that our learners are completing an average of more than 3 EduMe lessons at a time, so we adapted our learning design to this behaviour. Make it easy and compelling for people to keep going with their learning by lining up the next short lesson (think Netflix). In fact, recent research suggest that you should front-load your learning content and make it possible for your learners to consume as much as they want. Not only will they stay on the platform longer and learn more, they’ll learn better too.
The EduMe Team