Why I Love Microlearning

Microlearning also happens to be a trend right now in the e-learning world for several reasons.

One of the projects I am most proud of at work is an expansion of the online educational offerings we provide to our customers. We titled this project How To’s and we have been rolling them out on a continuous basis since early this year.  The Education Department at our company, in addition to providing webinars and on-site training and workflow analysis/operational reviews for our customers, has for a number of years maintained an online university.  The university consists of full-length (generally 25-30 minutes per chapter) interactive formal courses related to the use of the company’s main software platform, as well as branching out into related programs and software.  At the beginning of the year, I suggested that it might be beneficial to our customers also provide a microlearning option, which would function as a refresher for how to do things or use the software when you don’t have time to sit down for a full chapter.  Thus, the How To project was born.  Working in conjunction with various departments across the company, we create 1-5 minute short courses that are process driven and focus on a single task within the system.  We have several hours of this type of training now live, and we are continuing to roll it out on a regular basis.  Our customers have commented that they love the new feature, saying that it helps even veteran system users keep up to date and run their operations more efficiently.

Microlearning also happens to be a trend right now in the e-learning world for several reasons.  As e-learning company Grovo pointed out in a whitepaper titled Bite Size Is The Right Size: How Microlearning Shrinks the Skills Gap, part of embracing microlearning is an effort to accommodate employee attention spans, which have shrunk in recent years.  While this is often associated with Millennials, it is not exclusively a feature of that generation.  Another factor is the omnipresence of technology in the workplace, which requires employees to keep their skills sharp through constant practice and learning, lest they become unable to use the technology that is part of their jobs.  This creates a Skills Gap…employees who are not keeping up with the tech they must use, thus becoming inefficient and reducing productivity.  Another factor is recent studies which demonstrate that traditional learning methods aren’t as effective as everyone thought they were; the whitepaper points out that according to research only 15% of traditional learning participants apply what they learn in the courses, and within 30 days 80% of the knowledge they were exposed to is gone.

Grovo notes that microlearning is a very good fit for addressing these issues and closing the skills gap for a number of reasons.  First, it takes advantage of modern cultural trends; things like Ted Talks, Twitter and Tumblr can all be thought of as microlearning, and they are very popular and gain a lot of traction.  Second, it can improve retention of the knowledge presented by taking advantage of a natural cognitive process called chunking, in which information is grouped by similarities into a chunk in short-term memory before being transferred to long-term memory.  A microlearning course is essentially pre-chunked information.  It can also be delivered to the user at the time when they need it…not during a formal course at a structured time when the employee may not need to use the information for weeks or months.  This means the student can see the information, and immediately use it, which not only improves productivity but also improves knowledge retention.

These are all reasons why I love microlearning, but I do have a few more to add to the mix:

  • Faster access to information to fuel my brain:  This goes along with shortened attention spans.  There are many who decry the shortening of our attention spans, but if they take a closer look I have a feeling they would find something else going on.  For instance, if I am having a conversation with friends and we get on the subject something not all of us are familiar with, we can simply pull out our phones and Google what we need to catch up.  I don’t view this as a bad thing because it is increasing knowledge, and because it’s so easy I’m much more likely to do it.  Contrast that to when I was a child.  If I was in that situation I’d have to go to the encyclopedia and look up the info, which may or may not be quick depending on where the nearest encyclopedia was located.  Having to go to that much effort just to expand my knowledge often meant that I didn’t do it.
  • Its quick and easy to produce:  As an online content creator, creating these microlearning courses is much faster than creating a full chapter or course.  Because of the nature of the information, you don’t necessarily have to go through the full course development process of storyboarding and SME review and endless rounds of editing; you can get the course out within a very short period of time.  The How To’s I create at work can be made, proofed and made live within one hour.  By contrast, the full courses we create take at least a week for storyboard creation, another week for edits/SME evaluation and a final week to create, proof and make live.  One hour for a How-To vs. three weeks for a full course, and maybe longer depending on the content of the course?  I know which option I prefer.

These are some of the reasons why microlearning is out-pacing traditional e-learning, and I for one couldn’t be happier about it.  If you haven’t looked into microlearning, you should start today!  Check out Grovo’s whitepaper to get you started.

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