The shift from “courses to resources” has been a hot topic for more than ten years. Many learning designers chop up their content into bite-sized chunks. But is this more micro than learning? In this article, Kirstie Greany challenges traditional perceptions and shares some ideas on how to create a successful microlearning strategy.
Microlearning: What is it?
If you’re not sure what microlearning looks like, take a look at these 5 microlearning examples for inspiration.
It’s certainly a topic of huge industry debate. Many people would define microlearning as simply being about providing learners with tiny bites of learning material rather than longer form modules or courses. These tiny bites could be interactive videos, podcasts, activities, and more. But it’s their length that is key. We’re talking two to three minutes max. Generally, learners have some choice about what they use and when.
Others argue that shorter doesn’t equal better. In theory, making learning bite-sized is a great idea. We know workplace learning often happens in short windows, attention spans are finite, and no one wants to drown in content—especially when the chances of it all being relevant are slim. Even if you don’t read theory about “spaced learning,” your gut feeling would tell you that dishing up ninety concurrent pages of online content doesn’t feel right.
At Elucidat, we feel that microlearning has more to offer than just being short. Here’s why.
Big or small learning chunks – does it matter?
In a given day, whether I eat an entire cake (i.e., the course) or munch on five or six muffins (i.e., bite-sized chunks), what’s the difference in outcome? For both, I’d probably feel a bit sick. But that’s not the point. Perhaps the cake would make me feel so full I wouldn’t be able to do anything after, whereas the muffins give me the chance to do something in-between.
Actually, the difference in performance outcome is totally dependent on how good the learning experience is in each and how it relates to me and my personal learning and performance needs and gaps. We believe that one of the pillars of people-centered learning is about time well spent – respecting the limited time people have, yet using that to the max for true added value.
Just because something is shorter doesn’t mean it’s better for learning. But there is potential to make something of the spaces in between smaller nudges of learning. But what?
Where microlearning can work
Structure, spacing, personalization
Where microlearning can have the edge over simpler resource-based approaches is by applying some structure, shape, or journey to how learners use the microbites.
In our interview with Neuroscientist Stella Collins, she states that repetition is fundamental to brain-friendly learning. Other studies, like those in Make it Stick, show that providing learners with regular challenges that enable them to practice applying skills, not just repeat them, in slightly new situations helps grow competence and memory more than taking challenges all in one go. This is especially the case when those challenges gently stretch learners by getting incrementally harder.
This is where microlearning really comes into its own and beats older “resources not courses” approaches.
We also see personalized and adaptive learning as a must for effective microlearning strategies. Why overwhelm users with an array of hundreds of shorter topics, when you can provide them with a subset of targeted starting points and recommendations tailor-made for them? Then, depending on how they do and what they need, recommend the most useful next topics for them to continue their personal learning.
Five tips to make your microlearning strategy really deliver
Here are our five quick tips to creating a microlearning strategy that delivers on the “learning” as much as it does the “micro.”
1. Start with challenges
Using an action-mapping approach or something similar, focus on the activities that will help build competence, confidence, and skills. Then, work back from that to consider what guidance, examples, expert tips, etc., learners might need to help them complete that challenge, particularly if they don’t pass it.
2. Create a scale
Work out which challenges newbies should start with and where they can go from there. You might want to create a single string of challenges that get incrementally harder. Or, in the name of choice, perhaps you offer learners a choice of challenges, all at the same level or at different levels, and each earns them different totals of points.
You can send out a challenge-based microbite on a weekly basis. Alternatively, you can let learners work through the content more freely, unlocking the next challenge or level as they go. But this is where you can be super smart. Use Rules to track their scores or opinions across multiple questions or content bites. If you know someone is struggling with something, have your authoring tool serve up an extra challenge or set of examples to help them. You can also do this if they are all-stars; stretch them even further with a more in-depth challenge.
4. Build in incentives
Consider allocating scores, badges, or some kind of reward to learners when they complete a challenge. Even a simple acknowledgment at the end to say they’ve passed will suffice. Peer-to-peer incentives are also a strong tactic to use. Use your Analytics data to highlight how many other learners have made it to a certain level, look to leaderboards, or simply show the results of social polls.
5. Create milestones
Even if the microlearning content is covering a big expanse of skills and competencies, such as leadership skills, don’t let it go on forever. Everyone needs a break, but we also need to feel a sense of completion and greater achievement.
After ten or so challenges, build in milestones that mark when learners have achieved a certain status. Help them celebrate it with social media links, badges, certificates, and more.
As with all things learning and design, there’s no one-size-fits-all. But the key to getting microlearning to work is to consider the following:
- How are you using the spaces in-between the activities?
- How can you work in spaced practice that builds in complexity?
- In which ways can you create personalized and adaptive learning pathways?
- How can you use live data to incentivize and make the experience more social?
Check out these 5 inspiring microlearning examples for 2020 and request them to be gifted to your account for free.
Feeling inspired? Ask us for a free trial, or book a demo of Elucidat and see how we can help you deliver on your microlearning strategy.