What is microlearning? It’s an instructional strategy for quickly closing skill and knowledge gaps. It can be an ideal instructional approach for many situations because:
- Information changes quickly
- People find it difficult to keep up with things
- Resources are freely available online
- Newer technologies support it
Variety of Definitions
Some in the industry define microlearning as a small and informal self-directed learning experience. Examples include watching a Ted Talk or taking a lesson from Khan Academy.
Others think of microlearning as a more formal collection of brief learning experiences designed to meet a larger learning goal. Still others think that microlearning is synonymous with performance support or mobile learning.
Characteristics of Microlearning
In all of the varied definitions, you’ll find that microlearning has a few consistent features.
- Brevity: In their book Microlearning Short and Sweet, Kapp and Defelice note that time should not be an indicator of microlearning. Rather, think of microlearning as covering one objective.
- Granularity: Microlearning focuses on a narrow skill, concept or idea.
- Variety: Microlearning content can be in the form of an activity, game, discussion, video, eLearning, presentation, mobile learning, quiz, book chapter, or any other format from which someone learns.
Like any type of learning intervention, microlearning has strengths and weaknesses. Here are a few of its benefits.
- Immediate Results. Bite-size learning allows a person to quickly close a small knowledge or skill gap. For example, some universities are using a microlearning strategy to help students learn about collaborative and social technologies.
- Diverse formats. For both unstructured and structured learning, microlearning has the potential for using a very blended approach to instruction.
- Budget friendly. Production costs for microlearning should be much lower than the costs for a major course production. The vision of microlearning is smaller and laser focused.
- Quick achievements. Because people can typically process around four bits of information at a time, it’s easier for a learner to achieve success from a short learning intervention. I’ve found this myself when studying a foreign language.
- Ideal for tagging. Small chunks of instructional content can be tagged for easy search, access and reuse. These were called learning objects in a previous incarnation.
- Fast-paced culture. Microlearning is a solution that busy workers will appreciate because it is not as disruptive as a day of training or even an hour or two of eLearning.
There are some disadvantages to using a microlearning strategy. Here are some to consider:
- Lack of research. There is insufficient research to know whether microlearning is an effective strategy for reaching long-term learning goals.
- Learning fragments. For long-term learning goals, smaller learning experiences could end up as content fragments that are not tied together.
- Lack of cognitive synthesis. We can’t be certain that learners will synthesize content from microlearning well enough to construct appropriate mental models.
- Potential for confusion. If a microlearning solution includes a wide variety of formats, some learners could have problems switching between them.
The weaknesses of microlearning can most likely be fixed by sound instructional design practices. To ensure you don’t end up with learning fragments, ensure that small lessons are integrated into a complete whole when you need a holistic approach.
Some Ways to Use Microlearning
Lessons and learning activities that focus on one objective are becoming more common. When the audience and content can benefit from extreme chunking, well-designed microlearning seems to be a good strategy. Some example uses:
- Learning languages or topics that require repetition
- Brief tutorials for learning a software application
- Business processes and procedures for learning in the flow of work
- Interacting with case studies
- Practicing micro skills that build into larger skills
- Applying best practices one at a time
Where You Can Find Examples
A few platforms and/or websites offer micro courses. Here are a few.
- Grovo: Teaches professional skills with 60-second videos
- Google Primer: Lessons on business and video available for Android and iPhone
- 7Taps: Variety of examples
- Grovo. Bite Size Is the Right Size: How Microlearning Shrinks the Skills Gap in Higher Education
- Hug, T. Microlearning in N. Seel (ed.), Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning, Springer, 2011.
- Hug, T., & Friesen, N. Outline of a microlearning agenda. eLearning Papers, Nº 16, pp. 1–13, 2009. http://www.academia.edu/2817967/Outline_of_a_Microlearning_agenda
- Kapp, K. & Defelice, R. Microlearning Short and Sweet. Association for Talent Development, 2019.
- Kovachev, D., Cao Y., Klamma, R., and Jarke M. Learn As You Go: New Ways of Cloud-Based Micro-learning for the Mobile Web in Lecture Notes in Computer Science Volume 7048, 2011, pp 51-61.
- von Rosing, M., von Scheel, H, and Scheer, A. The Complete Business Process Handbook. Morgan Kaufmann, December 6, 2014.