To say that microlearning experiences are the way of the future is a foregone conclusion. In fact, they’re actually the way of the present. It’s not just the combination of the omnipresence of tech in our lives, our increasingly demanding schedules and our ever-shrinking attention spans that have made this approach more logical and effective. It’s the simple fact research has proven that we digest information more easily and retain it longer when it’s presented to us in smaller chunks.
What microlearning is – and isn’t
A microlearning experience is not:
So what is a true microlearning experience?
True microlearning experiences are:
But it’s not that simple either.
Almost without exception, microlearning experiences don’t exist in a vacuum. In almost every case, each one is designed with the goal of teaching students a portion of a larger concept, helping them master each portion one at a time before moving onto the next. Even if these modules were designed using a variety of different mediums — from video to slideshows to podcasts — it’s important that students understand how each particular module fits into the context of the overarching concept you’re trying to teach. And since our brains crave organization and structure to make meaning, clearly sharing the big picture with students from the very start — and explaining how each particular module fits in along the way — is the key to creating effective microlearning experiences.
In his article Macro vs. Micro? Arguing for the Whole and Not the Chunk!, author Nirupama Akella stresses the importance of staying focused on the big picture in light of Indiana University researcher Charles Reigeluth’s Elaboration Theory, which argues that, “… content to be learned should be organized from simple to complex order, while providing a meaningful context in which subsequent ideas can be integrated.”
“Contemporary online course design has become a stage for chunking and content fragmentation,” Akella says, “But research shows a student learns faster and better if he/she is presented with a holistic vision of the entire material right in the beginning. Thus, a student knows why they are learning the material before they begin to learn it.”
So what does this look like in practice?
Let’s say you’re designing a learning experience to teach employees about a new product. It could be broken into modules that introduce the product and what led to its creation (the problem it was designed to solve), and the product’s benefits (the ways in which it solves the problem). While each module should be self-contained with a beginning, middle and end, it should always circle back to the overarching goal — to help learners become subject matter experts on the product at hand.
And the fact that the best microlearning modules are designed to be experienced in the order the student chooses only makes reinforcing the big picture in each module that much more important. Of course, this focus on the overarching concept should always be accompanied by other microlearning best practices. This includes creating fun, interactive forms of assessment to check for understanding throughout the learning experience. It also means designing and connecting each module in a way that both instills a feeling of accomplishment when learners complete it and offers an incentive to move on to the next level.
Microlearning experiences also offer a wealth of versatility. Besides being useful to teach a broad concept in bite-sized pieces, they’re great for
The moral of the story is that when creating great microlearning experiences, it can be easy to lose site of the forest for the trees. So, while you’re creating that intriguing video complete with an interactive game to test the learners’ knowledge at the end, don’t forget the importance of reminding them why they’re watching in the first place.
 Nirupama Akella. Macro vs. Micro? Arguing for the Whole and Not the Chunk! October 2013. Retrieved from eLearn Magazine online: https://elearnmag.acm.org/featured.cfm?aid=2525968
 Elaboration Theory. Retrieved from Learning-Theories.com: https://www.learning-theories.com/elaboration-theory-reigeluth.html