Written by Devin Sherman, an Instructional Designer in D2L's Learning and Creative Services
Describing Microlearning - or Micro credentials - is not as simple as one might think. There is a common misconception that the strategy begins and ends with the digitization of traditional learning practices into sets of 4–5-minute videos which relate to each other and “teach” a hyper-specific topic in an acutely focused manner.
Certainly, that is how it is commonly applied and advertised. The “ONE-STOP SOLUTION” for resolving training problems in learning environments where adults have very little time to spend in a formal classroom setting A three-hour seminar? are you kidding me?! I’ve got that slide deck to finish before end-of-day!
Let’s also not get into the large number of terms that are associated with it: Microlearning, instructional units, badges, disaggregation, post-instruction, spaced, connectivism, the dreaded forgetting curve.
Coming from a mixed background of education, business, and information technology, the process of microlearning fascinated me long before I even knew that this was the formal term associated with the strategy of learning which I both consumed daily in videos such as 10 videos to teach you MS Project in just an hour and used in my own approach to training. I was simply trying to teach actionable skills which were immediately applicable to the job and happened to have the most practical knowledge in my company on the platform.
Many years later, I have learned so much more about the strengths, pitfalls, best practices, and place which this trend has in a larger learning ecosystem. So, I thought that a great place to start sharing my journey into Microlearning (and Micro credentials) was a brief clarification on what Microlearning is… and isn’t, so you can determine for yourself if it is the best fit for your particular use case.
What Microlearning Is
- Short, focused, engagement
While the exact number of minutes each experience is supposed to be is not widely accepted, each Unit (grouped collectively as modules) should be focused on delivering and excellent outcome, regardless of the length of time required to learn it (a minute, five, or an hour). Keep it as focused and brief as needed.
Mentors, or small groups all reporting to a single assessor, is an excellent best practice to keep in mind. Having the evidence which a learner needs to present to the assessor be built using the skills which the Microlearning is meant to teach is a great step towards success.
- Encourages collaboration and practices
It should not be simply making the same lectures, recorded in video, and put online. If built properly, the learner will need to spend significantly less time learning because everything they learn is building toward the goal.
- Saves time when built properly
A well-designed learning experience, taking into consideration all modules, should all build towards the performance of a highly specific task or goal.
- Tied to a single, clear, performance-based objective
The learner should easily and clearly understand what the experience will be helpful to them and what value it will deliver, improving performance on their job, or life.
- Has inherent value to the learner
What Microlearning Isn’t
Badging is a learner recognition system, and is used as part of Microlearning, rather than being Microlearning itself. This is a common misunderstanding. Think of microlearning as how a learner is going to prove they learned a particular topic, and the badge shows and awards that learning.
- A badging strategy
Microlearning has been around conceptually for a very long time. Large learnings are broken down into a smaller unit in textbooks and badging in the military to recognize achievements is generations old. The difference now is technology: how it is used as a delivery system for this learning.
Building a searchable database where a learner can look up the definition of a particular process step, while useful, is not Microlearning. A single resource to learn a particular piece of information is not teaching an entire purpose or setting expectations for a larger reasoning. Microlearning focused learning, of a larger plan which a learner wants to re-engage with again, and again.
- A resource library
Microlearning is limited only be the technology which drives it. It can be a podcast, a slideshow, infographic, animation, interactive video, and so much more. Think big but remember that the experience needs to be focused and appropriate to the information, covering only a single learning objective as a time.
- Purely video format
Microlearning – despite what a lot of services want you to believe – is not, and should not, replace the entirety of a learning eco-system. It is a highly adaptable, focused (there’s that word again), tool in your toolbox. It should be used alongside a variety of other learning strategies (blended classroom, e-learning modules, storytelling, games, and simulations) where appropriate. What matters most is that the combination which you choose, and the way you plan to incorporate Microlearning as part of your overall approach, ensures results in your learner’s journey to mastery.
A one-stop solution
Do you have anything else to add? What are some other key takeaways about what is and isn’t Microlearning, or other misunderstandings about the practice that I missed? Please start a conversation below, I would love to hear your thoughts.