Microlearning is flipping the understanding of how people learn by moving from longer-paced macrolearning toward learning in smaller, “bite-sized” chunks. Traditional learning, whether it takes place in school or in the workplace, has been based on the traditional credit hour, seat time and the semester-long class. This type of learning takes a certain period of time and typically involves consuming a high amount of content that is broken up by formative and summative assessments. Microlearning, on the other hand, aligns with how we naturally consume content on a daily basis. Let’s uncover some foundational characteristics of designing instruction in a microlearning environment.
Know Your Audience
Microlearning will look different for the novice vs expert learners. An expert learner will think about content differently, will have an advanced understanding of the practices of a field, and can place a microlearning experience within their existing knowledge. Microlearning tends to work well for this audience. They have already invested significant time into the content and can apply it to their current roles.
Novices, on the other hand, will usually have a superficial awareness of the field and are unable to situate a microlearning experience into other concepts, practices or understandings from the field. For both of these audiences, microlearning is able to deliver content in a digestible and mobile-friendly format. However, it can also lead to shortfalls in forming the knowledge base of novice learners.
Consider utilizing backward design to align assessments with learning objectives and create an initial assessment to place learners on the right pathway. Microlearning can be great for novice learners while, at other times, expert learners want to take a deeper dive into their subject matter. Knowing the audience and anticipating what they need will allow you to tailor microlearning to suit a specific environment in a way that makes sense.
Learners can engage in many short, microlearning modules over an extended period of time. Alternatively, they could be watching one video while commuting to work. In addition, the complexity of searching means that there are many ways that learners can arrive at a microlearning experience. For these two reasons, consider the usefulness of metadata and breadcrumbs to navigate and make sense of the content. This allows the learner to situate themselves within the whole of the learning experience and to backtrack if they want to see how the content has been organized as a whole.
Learners should be able to click at the top of a web page to see the logic and branching of the chunked content they are consuming. Metadata helps to improve the search performance of a learning experience while also creating an internal structure for consuming what is presented. This structure influences what people learn from the content and is not something to be taken lightly.
It is the rare case that a learner is not connected to some sort of device. These devices have a range of screen sizes and functionality. Some of them will have a touchscreen while others will swipe or use a mouse. Most eLearning authoring software allows one to create learning that is mobile-responsive from the beginning. However, it is always a good idea to test this functionality as much as possible. Try to get as many devices as possible and push the content past the breaking point.
Additionally, test the content on multiple browsers and operating systems. When a learner is having trouble opening or viewing content, the first question often asked is: what browser are you using? Try to prevent that question from arising by testing your content in every likely browser.
Create Producers of Information
When people engage in microlearning experiences, the majority of what they are doing is consuming content. If the only assessment or interactive component is a traditional summative evaluation, the learner is probably not going to get the opportunity to apply their own knowledge into the learning experience. Using interactive tools that allow learners to easily create and share content can allow for quick assessment of their learning. This process can reveal if the assessments are aligned with learning outcomes. Make sure that each microlearning chunk is aligned with no more than two learning objectives. Otherwise, learners might get overwhelmed by the amount of information that they need to produce and consume.
Hopefully, this article provided some foundational characteristics of a microlearning experience. This article only touches the surface of what is considered to be good microlearning design. By following the learning sciences, instructional designers can use microlearning to capture the attention of learners while still designing with a deep awareness of how learning happens.
Victoria Raish has her Ph.D. in Learning, Design, and Technology and regularly engages in critical discussions around essential educational technology topics. She especially enjoys conversations around tools used with intention.