Microlearning: Strategy, Examples, Applications, & More

Think about where you get most of your facts and food for thought nowadays. More likely than not, it’s not from the latest novel you’re reading, or long form article you’ve read, but something short and snappy you saw on your Facebook feed, Tumblr, or other social media channel. This is microlearning (and yes it means that the information you read on Twitter can be considered learning!) – bites of information – but we’ll explain more in a moment. You’re here because you care about learning, especially as it relates to the professional realm.

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Why Microlearning is the future of workplace training

When it comes to learning, employees want what they want when they want it. Tedious training sessions, forced instruction and epic employee manuals are outdated teaching tools, and are quickly becoming replaced by the likes of entertaining micro-content providers such as Facebook, Twitter and Google. Long live microlearning.

The Origin

Not that it hasn’t been around for the last several decades, albeit under the guise of “reusable learning objects,” “minilearning,” “microcourses,” “nanolearning,” and our favorite, “knowledge nuggets.”

As buzzwords and jargon are prevalent in the elearning industry, it’s worth taking a moment to define the two industry terms we’re addressing in this post: microlearning and blended learning. Microlearning is a teaching style in which the learner requests and controls the delivery of short bursts of information. Traditionally, microlearning has primarily been used as part of a more developed blended learning course, whereas blended learning is typically composed of several microlearning modules bundled together to achieve a pre-arranged training goal. Historically, blended learning has been the elearning industry’s stock in trade, defined by its flexibility and ease of use.

Microlearning, on the other hand, has long been a concept in search of the right technology. Fortunately, modern society’s ability to search, tag, link and instantly share information has caught up to its simple genius: Allow the employee to ask for information when they want it, how they want it.

Two real-world examples of our society’s newfound appreciation for microlearning can be seen in the popular Google Helpouts and TED-Ed. Both of which serve as instant educational tools to anyone requiring more information about Google products (Google Helpouts) or the world in general (TED-Ed).

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Corporate Applications

The same passion for learning that sparked the growth of these two social teaching tools can be applied to corporate training and employee growth as well. We are currently experiencing a shift in technology and instructional design in which forward-thinking businesses – local and global – can utilize microlearning in addition to traditional blended learning courses in the workforce.

For most corporate training departments, offering access to microlearning modules is the next natural step in workforce training. A majority of companies have long enjoyed the convenience and lower cost that elearning brings to staff training and development. While traditional interactive blended learning courses are preferred, many forward thinking companies have developed a nontraditional “flipped classroom” method in which employees are responsible for learning concepts on their own and then practicing or qualifying that knowledge in organized training sessions.

Integrating microlearning into corporate elearning programs is the next evolutionary step in workplace training and development. Modules can be easily created to educate staff in all aspects of brand culture, from hiring and development to on-going training and general communication. The best part is the convenience. Microlearning is fast, mobile and can be accessed from laptops, smart phones, tablets, and desktops as schedules permit.

Consider microlearning as an ideal solution for “just in time” learning situations. For example, an HR professional about to conduct an interview can access the company learning management system and search for instruction modules using the key word “Interviewing.” After watching a couple of informative video clips they may then be prompted to click on links to best practice articles or case studies to educate themselves further on the subject. When they feel ready, they can access a compliance course on interviewing dos and don’ts complete with an assessment quiz to ensure competency in the subject. Research completed, they are now prepared to conduct an interview that meets company standards.

MICROLEARNING STRATEGY: WHO, WHAT, WHY

So now we know that no, microlearning isn’t about learning little lessons while sitting at tiny desks. Instead, it’s a learning trend that enables learners to digest bite-sized pieces of information in a highly engaging and interactive way. From short video clips to pop quizzes and even carefully composed tweets, microlearning enables you to get the most important information to the masses. Let’s see how a seemingly short-sighted strategy can benefit your organization on a long-term basis.

Learner Autonomy

Hey, your learners are big kids –  they probably don’t need constant supervision and guidance. Microlearning methods allow your learner to feel in charge, giving the opportunity to pick and choose applicable lessons while guiding themselves. What’s more, the process respects your students’ time. After all, a busy professional may only have a few minutes to learn, process and apply new info.

Tell your learners to clear an hour off their schedule and you may be met with resistance. By swapping out longer lessons for shorter videos and messages, you make eLearning more manageable. No, your learners may not have a spare hour, but a spare five minutes? Definitely.

Continuous Updates

More traditional learning and training methods aren’t conducive to constant changing and updating. By funneling your lessons into a more digestible medium, you gain the ability to send out continuous updates via social media, video and interactive content. Your learner gets the benefit of updated info and you save time in delivering that information to the masses.

Multitasking

If your organization can’t afford missed work and extra resources to allow learners to attend training, a microlearning strategy makes sense. It gives students focused training in a small time frame. The result is more time on the job whilst still encouraging and enabling continual learning.

MAXING OUT MICROLEARNING: 3 BEST INTERACTIVE PRACTICES FOR MAKING IT WORK

Now that we know what microlearning is and why it’s great, the question is how do we make it work?

Mobile Methods

Society practically lives their entire lives in conjunction with their phones, so it only makes sense that the most effective microlearning strategies are those that allow learners to take their learning on the go. Anything from watching a quick video while waiting in a doctor’s office or reading a short email while relaxing on the couch means you’re in constant contact with your learners, giving you easy access and making your content simple, quick and accessible anytime, anywhere.

Less Information

There’s a reason students have long scribbled their notes on an index card for more effective studying: It breaks up information into more digestible portion sizes so the brain can more effectively process the information. By condensing your information down to about the size of an index card, you’re on the right track for maximizing your microlearning efforts. While it’s effective for words, this technique can also work for video and images. In fact, multimedia can help you sneak more info into your microlearning content. By adding these best practices to your microlearning strategy, you can max out results and efficiency, rather than information.

Get Interactive

It’s often said that to properly teach, you first need to tell, then show and finally, let the student try out the concept. Instead of taking time with show and tell, skip right to the practice portion. An interactive learning quiz, forum or even game allows your learners to try the concept for themselves in a shorter period of time. This can lead to a more efficient strategy where learners effectively teach themselves the new information and then put it to work.

Size Matters: Your Brain on MicroLearning

There we have, in bite-sized forms, reasons why microlearning is an efficient yet effective way to delivery information. But what’s really happening to your learners’ brains when they experience bite-sized pieces of information?

Even the most sophisticated onboarding system in the world is bound to leave a few things out. Microlearning makes space for some of those smaller, need-to-know bits of information, whether it’s a quick product refresher or in-the-moment compliance training. Reading Tweets; watching a Facebook video; checking out a quick article: It’s all microlearning.

By understanding how the brain responds to information based on context, topic, and yes, even length, the value of microlearning becomes clear. It’s not just an accessory to eLearning, but can become an integral part of a blended eLearning strategy.

Just Keep Swimming

Thanks in part to the rise of social media, humans are less focused in general. In fact, the average human attention span (the time for which a human can focus on non-changing stimulus) is only eight seconds. That’s one full second less than goldfish.

Consider this: The average office worker checks his email 30 times every hour, and the average mobile phone user checks his iPhone 150 times per day. Sound like a lot? It is. But humans are able to participate in those tasks literally hundreds of times every day because they’re quick: A pre cursory glance at a few updates is all that’s required for the brain to process email alerts or a new like on Instagram.

Reading tweets, watching Vines, and hyper-absorbing media has made it so that humans are trained to look for the fastest path to the answers they need. While attention span has steadily declined over the years, the brain’s capacity to consume and process information has actually increased. Therefore, if your information doesn’t really merit paragraphs of text, or even long videos, microlearning can frame that info in the way your learners are already trained and comfortable using. Anything longer, and you could get a goldfish-blank stare – what were you talking about again?

Staying Alert

Interestingly enough, the timeline for alertness is a little longer. Humans can stay alert and engaged on a topic (with the right stimulus) for about 20 minutes, after which neurons require a two- to three-minute break to recover. It’s possible to utilize traditionally lengthier methods of delivery, so long as they aren’t too long – and there’s plenty of time for breaks in between.

Still, it’s microlearning that has the largest capacity for changing the eLearning game. By respecting the neuroscience behind learning, information consumption, and attention span, it’s possible to design an eLearning curriculum that takes different learning styles into consideration. Size matters: Delivering smaller bites of information allows the learner to experience, absorb, and move onto the next task before losing interest.

3 MUST-HAVE TOOLS FOR MICROLEARNING

By breaking your subject matter into shareable, snackable pieces, you give your learners the autonomy and freedom to learn on the go, share their favorites and go beyond the usual realm of the classroom. In turn, this creates more motivated learners who are excited about the subject matter. But before you go about breaking up lessons and sharing on Facebook, load up your learning arsenal with the four most necessary tools to make microlearning work for you and your learners.

1. Social Media Accounts

From Facebook to Twitter and LinkedIn, social media has revolutionized the way that we not only receive information, but the amount of information we share. By connecting with your learners via social media, you nab them where you’ll find them most frequently – perusing profiles. This means a chance to learn from a quick video or tip, but also an increased chance that the information is shared on the same platforms, extending your overall reach.

2. Video Options

It’s no secret that the best teachers utilize visual cues to help learners understand new concepts. But the availability of quick, online videos that can be watched in a matter of minutes can turn casual learners into sponges for knowledge. Fast, entertaining and impactful videos can give your subject matter a better chance when compared to written material, especially when providing an entertaining, positive and shareable microlearning experience.

3. Content Keywords

An autonomous learner is an efficient learner. He doesn’t just rely on what is presented to him, but actively researches and cultivates his own knowledge base. With comprehensive keywords and effective meta tagging, one microlearning lesson can flow seamlessly into another to allow learners to become subject matter experts. A well-planned menu and autoplay features can also help ambitious learners stay on task and absorb more than just one 5-minute lesson.

MICROLEARNING: TURNING SMARTPHONES INTO TEXTBOOKS

While workplace learning can sometimes be associated with high costs – both monetary and time-related – some applications are anything but costly. By utilizing devices that your learners already have handy, you can drive down the costs while still maintaining a high level engagement. Thanks to smarpthones microlearning can be added to your training strategy to make learning on the go a reality.

Pocket Benefits

One of the main benefits of utilizing smartphones and tablets for learning is the fact that not only do most learners already own one or both, but the fact that most people are rarely without their phones. While you have to wait for a lecture or can only complete some training while near a computer, smartphones put microlearning right in learner’s pockets, so it can be done while waiting for the train, hanging out at home or while on a lunch break. This maximizes reach and engagement.

There’s an App for That

Smartphones also offer the ability for developers to think outside the box when it comes to microlearning delivery. Thanks to the availability of existing apps (Twitter, for example) instructors can push out bits of information without having to develop a custom app. Of course, when the time comes to create something more personalized, it’s possible to create an app for flash cards, quizzes, daily quotes and even mini-lessons.

Blended Up

Smartphones allow you to blend microlearning aspects seamlessly with your current strategy. It’s called “second screen learning”. Traditional lectures, conferences and classes are complemented by using smarthphones and tablets to answer questions. The second screen allows continual learning and accesses your learners’ understanding of the material. While you may end a demonstration at 5 p.m., smartphones allow you to keep up with your students long after they leave to extend your reach – and their education.

BLENDING MICROLEARNING AND MOBILE APPS FOR A PERFECT MATCH

It’s not often that two completely different concepts blend so seamlessly for a common result. Call it fate, call it love – we call it a perfect match between mobile applications and microlearning. After all, what could be a better match than the ability to create short, interactive lessons that learners could take on the go via mLearning. By creating mobile applications to deliver along with mini-lessons, organizations extend their reach far beyond the classroom into a learner’s home, the doctor’s office, the dinner table or a lunch break.

By creating apps that offer interactive functions, such as multiple choice quizzes, learners can log in and quickly refresh their memory or brush up on a new concept in their spare time and while away from their desks. By creating quizzes and game-like experiences, organizations can entice learners to take control of their own education by creating applications that make them want to log in and play or interact. Quiz and game apps engage the user, which can be a key to microlearning success and sharing.

Learning Cards

Another way to use mobile applications in microlearning is through the use of learning cards. Think about it: The average mobile screen is about the size of an index card, which is ideal for a short lesson or informational post. Creating an application which allows users to page through, save and share learning cards means you offer the perfect bite of information, rather than overwhelming the learner with details.

Don’t forget the capacity for a multimedia experience. Thanks to smartphones and tablets, apps can now contain videos and audios with which users can interact in their spare time. Hey, watching an instructional video at home on the couch can seem more attractive than watching the same presentation in real time at the office. And, when your goal is reach and engagement, that’s a positive thing.

MICROLEARNING BEST PRACTICES FOR TWITTER

Let’s dig in and see how we can enhance engagement, specifically on Twitter, because, after all, what are you doing when scrolling through your Twitter feed if not collecting information, 160 characters at a time? Here’s how to harness Twitter for the powers of good through microlearning.

Quick, Individualized Communication

From “There’s donuts in the break room,” to a quick recap of your latest conference call, Twitter allows you to deliver concise information to those who need it. Bypassing the cluttered inbox means your social media-savvy colleagues can quickly get the information without frills. Some organizations are creating personalized microlearning Twitter feeds for various groups, allowing them to quickly push out information to the right people.

Daily Learning

Getting your employees interested in a daily lesson can be easy. Add a quote, mini-lesson or reminder to a Twitter feed to break down information into easier-to-digest pieces. An otherwise busy and overwhelmed employee has the time to routinely check in with Twitter, read a mini-lesson and file it away for further reading. Learning is now a regular occurrence.

Did You See…

Colleagues: Meet your new information highway. As you surf the Web, read reports and check in with sites, you’ll undoubtedly happen upon articles, videos and information pertinent to your colleagues. Twitter offers you a way to quickly share new information and ideas between employees in the moment, so there’s no more lost ideas and forgotten media. As you share and share alike, you’re able to make the most of others’ ideas and concepts with the instant gratification of using social media.

There you have it – the rundown of what is microlearning, why it’s valuable, and ways to implement it in your own office. So what are you waiting for – let’s start microlearning today!