This past week, my colleague, Christine Leese, and I had the honor of speaking to 300 or so attendees at DevLearn, which is an event put on each year by The eLearning Guild. As one of the largest technology-based learning conferences in the world, it brings together some of the best and brightest from the learning community to learn from one another, share best practices, and explore what the future of learning may hold. This year we had the honor of being selected to present a one-hour concurrent session, The Next Big Thing is Small: 20 Pros and Cons of Microlearning. In a previous post, we gave the world a preview of our presentation, discussing what microlearning is and introducing 3 of the pros and 3 of the cons. In this post, we’ll take a look at a few more…or as we’ll refer to them throughout the rest of this post, the tricks and treats of microlearning!
Treat #1: Revolves around the learner
One of my favorite features of microlearning is that it empowers the learner. Traditional learning plans “push” courses or curriculum to the learner at what someone else believes to be the learner’s moment of need. Microlearning allows the learner to “pull” the learning they need when they actually need it. Empowering the learner to help him or herself makes the learning so much more relevant and real.
Trick #1: Can only cover one learning objective at a time
While the learner can certainly access the microlearning when they need it, it is only a micro learning. It is hard to learn an entire topic or process in 10 minutes or less. In fact, in 10 minutes or less it is nearly impossible to focus on more than one very specific learning objective at a time. If a learner needs more information, he or she will likely need to complete a more comprehensive course or training plan.
Treat #2: Cheaper and quicker to build
In theory, microlearning should be cheaper and quicker to build. A 5-minute video should be quicker to program than a 50-minute eLearning module. A podcast should take less time to plan and execute than designing an hour-long instructor-led training.
Trick #2: Is it really?
However, don’t forget about trick #1 above. You can only cover one learning objective at a time in a microlearning. Is one 5-minute video all you need to replace a 50-minute eLearning? Likely not. When you start adding up the number of microlearnings required to accomplish what would have traditionally been included in a longer course format, the time and costs add up quickly! And what if you’re just creating microlearning to act as performance support? Well, you’ll still need some more traditional learning modality to teach the basics so your microlearning has something to support!
Treat #3: Microlearning is bite-sized learning
Everyone has heard the saying “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!”, and it is certainly applicable to microlearning. Microlearning can take a large or complex topic and break it down into digestible pieces of information for the learner. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the amount of content, the learner can take it one step at a time at their own pace.
Trick #3: Can lose sight of the big picture
While microlearning is great because it makes a complex or long topic approachable to the learner, it is also breaking apart the topic into various bite-sized pieces. While you may be able to eat an elephant one bite at a time, you need to see the entire elephant to know it is actually an elephant. This is where organization is key. Your learners need to know where all the other related elements to the lesson are to make sure that they don’t lose sight of the bigger picture or misinterpret content because it has been taken out of context.
Treat #4: Variety is the spice of life
While we all tend to think of video first when we think “microlearning”, the truth is that microlearning can take many different forms. For instance, microlearning may include:
- Video or interactive video
- Short forms of eLearning
- Interactive PDFs
- Blog posts
- And more!
Trick #4: Too many cooks (or spices) spoil the broth
While all of these forms are great, the costs, time involved, and complexities of programming or designing can add up quickly! For instance, are you going to produce professional quality video with proper sound, lighting, and cameras? What about editing software to edit your video? What about the know-how and skills required to shoot and edit your video? Can you do it in house? Or do you need to out-source that skill?
Treat #5: Mobile friendly
While we like to blame the phone addiction on the millennial population, it really is more of a pervasive issue with the modern worker. The average user of a smart phone touches their phone 2,617 times every day (study by DScout). This means that learning (and where people learn) needs to change to address the way people are now interacting with technology. Microlearning is the perfect solution because many of the forms it takes are tailor-made for a mobile environment. Whether it is a podcast, a video, or a responsive and interactive document, these forms of learning are easy to view on a mobile device with very little extra programming required.
Trick #5: Can the learner access it or find it?
As your library of learning objects grows, one of the biggest challenges will be to organize and tag your information in a way that the learner can easily search for it and access it. Another potential issue will come into play if you plan on offering these learning objects on an LMS. Is your LMS up-to-date to be able to host and track completion of these types of microlearning objects? What about packaging these objects together in an organized manner? Can you allow the learner to self-select or self-enroll in microlearning objects? Or do these objects still need to be “pushed” out to the learner in a learning path?
Treat #6: Reusable learning objects
Something that we love about microlearning is that once it is programmed, we now have a learning object that we can use again. For instance, if we create an introductory video to introduce a new accounting standard, we now have an object that we can use in a longer eLearning course or even an instructor-led training. Not only that, but microlearning is not audience specific. It doesn’t matter if you’re a partner or an associate, if you need an introduction to the standard, this video is equally applicable and accessible.
Trick #6: Presents organizational challenges
The problem with using microlearning within other objects comes into play when the content needs to be updated. Make sure that your company keeps track of where each microlearning is being used, so that you can ensure the content stays updated in all courses or learning objects.
Treat #7: Best for filling short-term knowledge gaps
Short, defined bursts of learning are the perfect solution for filling short term gaps in knowledge. For instance, perhaps a learner participated in a more formal training program six months ago, but now he or she is in the field and trying to recall what was learned. Microlearning can act as a performance support tool to help the learner recall what he or she needs to know in their moment of need. The learner can then feel confident in going forth and applying that knowledge.
Trick #7: Avoid work working to achieve long-term knowledge goals
So far, there has been no research to support that microlearning is effective as a standalone tool when an organization is trying to achieve long-term knowledge goals with its employees or learners. Remember, as we discussed in the first post, microlearning is a great tool, but it cannot stand alone. It must be part of a more formal or organized learning strategy.
What’s the bottom line?
With the advances in technology and the learner’s demand for instant information, microlearning is here to stay. But remember, microlearning is not a one-size-fits-all solution. It should be used strategically by organizations to fill short-term knowledge gaps or to introduce introductory material as part of a well-designed learning strategy. Equally as important when you only have 10 minutes or less to communicate is sound instructional design AND graphic design (if applicable). Additionally, if you are producing microlearning in a corporate setting, remember that quality still matters. And finally, accessibility and searchability will prove key as your library of microlearning objects continues to grow.
And finally, from our GAAP Dynamics family to yours, here’s wishing you all a safe and happy Halloween!
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