Microlearning – A Top 2020 Learning Trend

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Microlearning is a much bandied-about term in the online learning universe. And justifiably so.

Let’s quickly review the What’s and How’s of this medium of learning before we consider Why it is high up on the Learning radar.

What is Microlearning?

Microlearning, as the name suggests, is learning in small chunks, where the training is delivered in small bites, i.e short bursts of content in text and/or multimedia, providing specific information aimed at delivering one learning objective.

It can be informal, such as a TED Talk or a segment of a structured eLearning course or even a performance support capsule.

Having said that, there are two consistent features of this medium regardless of where and how it is deployed:

Brevity – this is the one underlying, non-negotiable characteristic that defines this medium of instruction. The duration could range from a few seconds to up to 15 minutes.

Single idea/granularity – the content is confined to ONE specific topic, idea or concept.

Microlearning

Why is Microlearning climbing up the popularity charts, especially in the corporate learning space?

Most companies are stretched for time with regards to employee learning and development. With limited ‘spare’ time and shorter attention-spans of the average individual (courtesy the social media deluge and the concurrent ‘digital modification’ of our brains’ ability to pay attention) the chances of completing a traditional in-depth macrolearning eLearning course is much lower than digesting and retaining a pint-sized chunk of a focused and precise microlearning intervention. 

This approach not only makes learning easier, engaging and effective for the learners, but also allows the company to push through specific learning goals with greater traction, and less or no disruption of work. Which corporate wouldn’t want that?

Also, micro-learning can be delivered in diverse ways – desktop, video, mobile. And mobile access anywhere, anytime allows for greater stickiness and desire and ease to learn on the go. The completion levels automatically climb up. Interest and accountability surge and both employee and employer are happy!

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Summary

In summary, they are:

  1. Microlearning makes the transfer of learning 17% more efficient
  2. 8 out of 10 L & D professionals favor microlearning because their learners prefer it
  1. Microlearning creates 50% more engagement
  2. Learning in stretches of 3-7 minutes matches the working memory capacity and attention spans of humans
  3. Reduce development costs by 50% and increase the speed of development by 300% with micro eLearning courses

Microlearning versus Macrolearning

This brings us to the inevitable comparison – Microlearning versus Macrolearning.

Macrolearning, as the name suggests is learning a comprehensive body of knowledge or skill, like learning to use a software, learning a subject, undergoing a company induction etc., which includes a combination of knowledge, assessment and feedback, is distributed over a period of time, and in the medium of Instructor-led classes, elearning courses or even MOOCs.

Here’s a chart condensing the differences between Macrolearning and Microlearning in development, time and scope.

Why Microlearning scores

At the outset of any learning intervention, macrolearning is central to understanding the context, the vision, the job and the skills. 

Thereafter the learner needs repetitions and revisions of precise chunks to assure long-term retention. And that is where microlearning steps right in. 

Macrolearning has always battled with Return on Investment ROI) and measuring the impact of the learning (training effectiveness). Microlearning, given its nature can yield instant ROI and measurement.

Additionally, if the company is internally developing the microlearning modules, it’s a clear win-win, as microlearning is budget-friendly, being faster and more economical to develop and update. 

Microlearning is ideally suited for diverse and eclectic use in businesses – be it for on-boarding, policy training, software training, motivational bytes, learning technical content, business processes, tasks/topics requiring repletion, compliance training or performance support. It can be used as a stand-alone module or blended in with structured learning. 

This medium allows for learning flexibility and employee autonomy, thus encouraging an atmosphere of fun and a culture of lifelong learning.

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As the learning is ‘completed’ in small chunks, thus result-oriented, the sense of achievement is far more tangible and potent. As the application of knowledge is immediate, success becomes an easily achievable short-term goal, and propels the learner towards dynamism, both at work, life and further learning.

Microlearning is also much more easily ‘available’ than traditional learning as the module can be tagged and thus searched for and accessed.

Our brains are wired to learn at intervals, with knowledge being ingested in a ‘spaced-out’ fashion, in stretches of three to seven minutes which matches the working memory capacity and attention span of humans, especially modern-day learners. 

“Independent studies have shown that microlearning videos are the ideal way to present training content to your people:

  • Research out of the University of California, Irvine found that employees spent, on average, only 11 minutes on any given project before being interrupted by another task or request.
  • A study out of the University of Rochester looked at the amount of time students spent watching videos of various lengths for online courses; the researchers found that attention began to wander and learners began skipping ahead when videos were longer than 9 to 12 minutes.
  • A presentation at the International Conference on Applied Science and Engineering Innovation in 2015 reported that, out of a sample of 200 learners, 71% felt that Microlearning videos “expanded their horizon[s] and played a leading role in in-depth learning.”

From a neurological perspective, repetitions and revisions are integral to knowledge transfer and retention in our long-term memories. And repetitions are increasingly feasible, if the content is chunked into micro-modules for quicker ingestion. As seen above, research indicates that microlearning makes for higher efficiency in learning transfer from classroom to workplace (17 % percent higher).

Microlearning, then not only lets the mind take a breather from cognitive overload, but simultaneously develops effective long-term learning and memory.

The Future of Microlearning

Microlearning is most emphatically here to stay. That being the case, let us gaze into the crystal ball and see where microlearning would trend, or have the maximum impact.

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Mobile: sounds like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? The mobile has become our right (or left) hand. The human and his mobile are inseparable. This device has moved beyond the limitations of a mere gadget. We literally and figuratively ‘live’ with the mobile phone, from the time the alarm sounds off, till the time sleep apps or sleep music calms our minds into oblivion and rest. A fully-functioning device, the mobile is our comfort zone when it comes to consuming information – be it social media or news, or relaxing/entertaining/engaging our minds – through the plethora of games for every age, gender, and proclivity. Microlearning, then is ideal for learning on the go, on this versatile device – pick up a new concept/learning/skill while you are waiting in the traffic, at the hypermarket, hospital waiting room – just about anywhere, and at any time. Companies must harness this behavior by putting out all the microlearning modules that must be mandatorily consumed by the employee, certain in the knowledge that most if not all, will be completed! 

Mobile microlearning incorporating social learning enhances the learning experience, by deepening and enriching it through interaction and collaboration, heightening it into a fun and engaging experience.

Incorporating emerging technology – Artificial Intelligence (AI), Virtual Reality (VR), Data Analytics – into microlearning, is a definitive and potent method to engage in real-world learning without real-world challenges and limitations. 

As are gamification and simulated learning, which leverages interactivity at its heightened best, allowing for rewarding engagement (with the use of avatars, and collectibles) with the learner with immediate results.

Microlearning will be increasingly explored by companies to train their associates on anything and everything in their learning portfolio, as the workforce, gets increasingly populated with the Millennials, Gen Z and soon to come Gen Alpha.

Happy Microlearning!

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