Microlearning is the process of accumulating small doses of information that apply to specific learning outcomes. Instead of studying all the content that is needed to achieve an educational goal, the learning process is divided into much smaller units of study.
Those units of study may be delivered via short videos, articles, eBooks, audio clips, or any other medium that contains concentrated information designed to meet an immediate learning need.
Buchem and Hamelmann (2010) base their definition of microlearning on conceptualizations from Lindner (2006) and Schmidt (2007):
“Microlearning refers to short forms of learning and consists of short, fine-grained, inter-connected and loosely-coupled learning activities with microcontent” (p. 2).
One of the main distinguishing features of microlearning has to do with the role of the user (Hug, 2007). Rather than being the passive recipient of content, in microlearning, users also take part in the creation of content. In this context, they are referred to as prosumers.
Characteristics of Microlearning
Buchem and Hamelmann (2010), in addition to others, identify and describe the main characteristics of microlearning which distinguishes it from traditional instructional approaches.
This term refers to information that is published in its shortest form possible. Its length is constrained by the physical and technical limits of software and devices commonly used today (Dash, 2002).
The content consists of a single primary idea that is accessible through one entity such as a website or short article. The duration of microcontent can range from just a few seconds to 15 minutes. Therefore, microcontent does not require users to have long attention spans.
2. Web 2.0
Microlearning takes place within the second generation of the World Wide Web, known as Web 2.0. The emphasis of this new iteration is focused on greater opportunities for collaboration which produces user-generated content.
Microchunks of information are created individually. Content is open, aggregated, and used repeatedly in a dynamic process of rearrangement to form a constantly evolving digital ecosystem.
3. Social Software
Social software refers to software programs and apps that facilitate social interaction (Schaffert & Hilzensauer, 2008).
It allows individuals with differences in prior knowledge, interests, and objectives to engage in collaborative learning processes. The software is specifically designed to enable short and flexible formats to function on the same platform.
Content is more easily shared, rapidly and efficiently distributed and engaged so that online communities can connect, share, and re-purpose content.
4. Personalized Learning Environments (PLE)
Microlearning activities are integrated into a PLE. This term refers to the collection of applications in a single “space” that can be accessed by individuals so that the content can be manipulated and reused in an ongoing learning experience (Downes, 2005).
Users can combine different microlearning units and then distribute the resulting transformations to other applications. This puts learners in control of their learning and empowers them to become generators of knowledge.
5. Informal Learning
Microlearning is much different when compared to traditional instructional approaches due to its informal nature. Microlearning is informal in the context in which it occurs, is far less structured, and involves a wide range of formats.
The informal nature of microlearning is facilitated by the use of mobile devices, sometimes referred to as M-learning (Bruck et al., 2012). Mobile devices allow for learning to occur anytime, anywhere, and thus provide learners with tremendous flexibility (Agha & Ayse. 2011; Wong, 2012).
See More: Informal Learning Examples
Most organizations have well-established training programs for employees. Microlearning offers an additional option for staff to be trained through more flexible deliver systems that can be accessed at any time (Giurgiu, 2017).
Microlearning is a form of blended learning that adds value to the organization because it requires less commitment of time and resources by designated trainers.
When combined with Web 2.0 and social software that more easily integrates short formats to enable user-generated content and interaction, the benefits in a work-based context become multiplied.
- Soft Skills Training in Customer Service: Customer service is a nuanced art that not all individuals can master. Companies can offer microlearning opportunities to customer service staff that portray various scenarios through short video role plays and demonstrate preferred techniques.
- Language Apps: Sitting in an hour-long course where the foreign language instructor flies through vocabulary and phrases at lightning speed can be ineffective and frustrating. Add in traveling time to and from class, and the whole endeavor seems very unappealing. Fortunately, there are tons of language apps that allow users to select their topics and provide very short lessons. This allows users to learn at their own pace and master specific material before moving on to the next topic.
- Grow with Google: Google now offers online training that can be accessed anywhere and anytime. This means greater diversity of users. The programs are designed to help users develop much needed digital skills across a wide range of business-related subject domains. Much of the options are based on a microlearning philosophy.
- Skills Refreshing: Even well-trained employees will sometimes forget important information. This is particularly true when a certain skillset is used infrequently. Microlearning in the form of skills refreshing allows staff to reacquaint themselves with training specifics whenever needed.
- YouTube: You can learn about anything on YouTube. Type in the key search term and more than likely dozens of options will be listed. Depending on the topic, those videos can range from just a few minutes to over an hour. The only drawback is that no one cannot guarantee the validity of the content.
- Four Minute Books: Sometimes busy professionals don’t have time to read an entire book, whether it be on a professional topic or just for pleasure. This is where Four Minute Books comes in. Users can hear a summary of lengthy books in less than four minutes. The topics range from scientific summaries of research on health and longevity, to how to prioritize to-do lists and get the most out of each work day.
- Employee Orientation: Orienting new hires to the company’s history and mission statement can be time consuming. If a company is continuously hiring over several months, then costs in resources can accumulate. If employees are in different locations, traveling time only absorbs additional resources. Microlearning via multimedia content allows for much greater flexibility in when training occurs and reduces costs.
- Product Knowledge Training: Attending an on-boarding training session that describes the company’s product line and details of each item can entail several hours of note-taking. Most likely, most of that information will not be retained for long. However, micro-training videos for each product can be easily accessed by staff when needed. This offers customers a better service experience and ensures quality and consistency of information being distributed.
- Word of the Day App: Boosting your vocabulary will pay dividends in numerous ways. It makes your writing more engaging and persuasive and can enhance your impact during team meetings. Apps such as the Word of the Day utilizes a flashcard format to present users with just one word a day. It also offers quizzes to ensure learning and correct usage. Because it can be accessed anytime and anywhere via a mobile device, it is a great example of microlearning.
- Assembly Instructions: Putting together a new piece of furniture of piece of equipment by following the written instructions provided in the box can be very frustrating. Diagrams can be confusing and it is not uncommon for some key steps to be omitted. Those difficulties can be easily resolved by placing a short video on the company website that shows a person assembling the product step-by-step. The video can be accessed and paused at the user’s convenience.
Strengths of Microlearning
By far the biggest advantage of microlearning is convenience. Because the content is digital and placed online, it can be accessed by users anytime, anywhere.
Often, the content has been specifically designed to be accessed by mobile devices, which simply compounds the convenience and enhances value.
2. Reduction in Costs and Resources
When a company converts their in-person training programs into microlearning formats it can reduce costs substantially. Once the content has been created, there is no need for trainers to repeatedly conduct the same training over months and years.
In addition, if training involves employees across a wide range of locations, they no longer have to spend time traveling to the training site. This can result in huge savings of time and allow staff to receive training at their desk or any other location.
3. Improved Retention
Traditional instructional and training approaches can be lengthy and involve a lot of information presented over an extended period of time. However, microlearning involves presenting smaller, more concentrated content that is more narrowly focused over a shorter period of time.
To date, everything we know about retaining information in long-term memory tells us that distributed learning is superior to massed learning (Cepeda et al., 2006; Dunlosky et al., 2013) and that chunking information into smaller units also improves learning (Bodie et al., 2006).
4. Increased Engagement
One of the biggest strengths of microlearning is that users are more engaged in the learning process. There are several reasons for this. One reason has to do with reduced cognitive load (Shail, 2019).
Traditional learning approaches can be too lengthy, which can overwhelm cognitive capacity.
Another reason microlearning is more engaging is because the multimedia format is far more interesting than sitting in a training hall for several hours.
In addition, the collaborative nature of microlearning can also increase engagement through social interactions that facilitate the transfer and exchange of ideas (Buchem & Hamelmann, 2010; De Gagne et al., 2019).
Weaknesses of Microlearning
1. Rejection by Traditionalists
Change can be discomforting. One obstacle to implementing microlearning is that traditionalists may be reluctant to undergo training in new technologies (De Gagne et al., 2019).
The time required to learn how to operate and produce instructional materials with new technologies can also be stress-inducing (Freed, et al., 2014).
Similarly, developing microlearning lessons is time-consuming (Prakash et al., 2017). Experienced instructors, whom have already spent considerable time developing and refining lessons over a period of years, may understandably be reluctant to create the same content in different formats.
2. Technological Limitations
Microlearning is heavily dependent on advanced technology and connectivity. Downloading multimedia content, even in short durations, can limit access to disadvantaged groups that may lack access to necessary technology. This is commonly referred to as the digital divide.
An analysis by the Pew Research Center found that approximately 25% of U. S. households with incomes below $30,000 a year report not owning a smartphone. Additionally, just over 40% of lower income households do not have broadband services, or a desktop or laptop computer.
These statistics indicate that despite development of Web 2.0 and associated advances in integrated software, a significant portion of the U. S. population will be excluded from microlearning opportunities. Numbers in less developed nations may show even higher levels of inaccessibility.
Microlearning is an instructional approach that involves content being presented in short, highly concentrated doses of material. It is usually focused on a very specific educational objective.
In addition to the distinguishing features of short duration and being highly focused, it is also in a multimedia format, enables user interactions, and allows prosumers the opportunity to reshape and repurpose content.
Microlearning has several benefits over traditional instructional approaches. It is often more engaging, more convenient, and leads to greater retention and learning.
One of the main disadvantages however, is its reliance on connectivity, which excludes those without broadband and mobile devices. Additionally, instructors that have developed effective content over many years may be reluctant to spend additional time repackaging their existing lessons.
Despite the challenges, technology continues to evolve and impact many aspects of our lives, from the way work is performed to educational practices which are becoming increasingly transformed.
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