Microlearning (a.k.a. micro learning or micro-learning) is an emergent learning strategy known for quickly closing skill and knowledge gaps. It seems to be an ideal instructional approach for many situations because:
- Information changes quickly
- People find it difficult to keep up with things
- Resources are freely available online
- Newer technologies support it
What is Microlearning?
Some in the industry conceptualize microlearning as a small and informal self-directed learning experience arising from one’s personal learning environment, such as watching a Ted Talk or taking a lesson from Khan Academy.
Others think of microlearning as the planned organization of brief learning experiences designed to meet an extended learning goal. Still others think that microlearning is synonymous with performance support or mobile learning.
Characteristics of Microlearning
Regardless of whether it is used informally or as part of a structured learning experience, microlearning has a few consistent features.
- Brevity: Microlearning events are short, though there is no defined duration.
- Granularity: Due to their brevity and purpose, microlearning focuses on a narrow topic, concept or idea.
- Variety: Microlearning content can be in the form of a presentation, activity, game, discussion, video, quiz, book chapter, or any other format from which someone learns.
Like any type of learning intervention, microlearning has strengths and weaknesses. Here are a few of its benefits.
Immediate Results. One benefit of effective microlearning is that it enables a person to quickly close a small knowledge or skill gap. For example, some universities are using a microlearning strategy to help students learn about collaborative and social technologies, such as how to set up a Google+ account.
Diverse formats. For both unstructured and structured learning, microlearning has the potential for using a very blended approach to instruction.
Budget friendly. Production costs for microlearning should be much lower than the costs for a major course production. The vision of microlearning is smaller and laser focused.
Quick achievements. Because people can typically process around four bits of information at a time, it’s easier for a learner to achieve success from a short learning intervention. I’ve found this myself when studying a foreign language.
Ideal for tagging. Small chunks of instructional content can be tagged for easy search, access and reuse.
Fast-paced culture. Microlearning is a solution that busy workers will appreciate because it is not as disruptive as a day of training or even an hour or two of eLearning.
There are some disadvantages to using a microlearning strategy. Here are some to consider:
Lack of research. There is insufficient research to know whether microlearning is an effective strategy for reaching long-term learning goals.
Learning fragments. For long-term learning goals, microlearning interventions could end up as content fragments that are not tied together.
Lack of cognitive synthesis. We can’t be certain that learners will synthesize content from microlearning well enough to construct appropriate mental models.
Potential for confusion. If a microlearning solution includes a wide variety of formats, some learners could have problems switching between them.
Most likely, many weaknesses in the approach can be fixed by sound instructional design practices, such as providing overviews, recursive content and ensuring there is sufficient content integration.
Some Ways to Use Microlearning
Very brief lessons and learning activities are becoming more common. When the audience and content can benefit from extreme chunking, well-designed microlearning seems to be a good strategy. Some example uses:
- Learning languages or topics that require repetition
- Learning a software application
- Business processes and procedures
- Interacting with case studies
- Practicing micro skills that build into larger skills
- Applying best practices