Is Microlearning the Future of Education?

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In today’s technology driven world, information is available at the touch of a button, or even a voice command. Whatever the subject, all it takes is a quick Google search and learners are faced with a deluge of information. This amount of information, while useful in many ways, also presents a unique and rather complex challenge: information overload. Combined with limited human capacity to process so much info, this information overload results in skills or knowledge gaps for learners. This problem exists as much in the formal learning system as it does in professional or workplace training. To combat this problem, experts in the field of education and training have been turning to microlearning.

Microlearning, is an emergent learning process in which information is provided in small, very specific bursts to a learner. Unlike traditional learning methods in which an individual may study a series of complex courses or learning materials according to a set schedule, microlearning involves exposing the learner to micro-content, so that they focus only on interacting with small, well-planned chunks of learning material at a time.

The concept is based on research on how the human brain retains information and how it is wired to learn. By providing information only in bite-sized, easy to process chunks, microlearning helps bridge and fill gaps in learning, whether such learning is carried out in an informal, self-directed manner or a planned collection of brief learning experiences with an aim to meet an extended goal.

Learning is usually delivered in a variety of engaging and easily manageable short-term activities and presentations. For example, a learner may choose to learn from a short video hosted on You-Tube, showing how to create a pivot table in Excel, or he or she may subscribe to a series of short informative emails, or even better play a game!

Key Features of Microlearning

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Its granularity aligns with research that shows that the human brain learns better in short laser focused sessions, compared to taking in extensive content for long hours. With a span of a few seconds to fifteen minutes, the brevity of microlearning makes it easily digestible, addressing the constraints of the human brain and attention span. The brevity and granularity of the micro-content delivered through microlearning make it easier for a learner to retain more information from a quick educational intervention, than what he or she obtains in traditional learning methods. This easy retention of data combines well with microlearning’s third feature, variety.

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One of the most important features of microlearning is its dynamism and adaptability to different media, which makes it easy to use in a variety of ways. Providing information in multiple formats through microlearning stimulates the different senses and encourages the learner to be more focused on the subject at hand even if it’s only for a brief period of time. Presenting information to the learner in a myriad of formats also drives repetition. Today, a learner may prefer to be exposed to video content displaying information for a couple of minutes, then play a short learning activity reinforcing these same concepts. This method utilizes the same amount of time as more traditional learning methods like sitting in a classroom, or reading a brochure, but has nearly double the impact simply because of the presentation. Whereas a learner may struggle to maintain enough interest to read paragraphs in a brochure (even with images) he or she would be far more involved in a video or activity, even though each format contains the same amount of information. The variety of media through which microlearning can be presented appeals to learners’ affinity for various learning aids such as visually perceptible objects (videos) interactivity (activities) as well as competitiveness (games).

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With traditional learning methods, learners are grouped together and expected to learn at the same pace, in a rigidly structured format. This naturally makes it hard for learners with a slower learning pace to cope while leaving faster paced learners unengaged. In contrast, microlearning is far more engaging, flexible and learner centered, allowing the learner to control their learning experience at their own pace. It also uses less physical modules and venues, making it more mobile and cost effective for a unique and dynamic learning experience.

Is Microlearning the Future of Education?

Given the many benefits, it’s difficult to argue against microlearning as a more effective option over traditional learning methods. However, the underlying premise of microlearning is that human beings learn differently from one another. And so, while the versatility of microlearning would appeal to large sections of the learning community (students, corporate employees, educators, etc.), there is no doubt that some people would prefer traditional learning experiences, and learn better that way. But even among those who prefer traditional learning methods, the busy hustle of day-to-day work and lifestyle already means that most people are already engaged in some form of microlearning and exposed to microcontent as they read, watch, or play any media on the internet. And so without a doubt, microlearning is the future of education, whether intentionally sought as such, or simply as a by-product of using the internet.

  • Glad to see that microlearning is finding its place in the training space. While it has many advantages as noted in this article, it is still not a one-size-fits-all solution. Good planning and solid blended solutions still get my vote.

    • Bryan Austin

      Amy, you are so right that microlearning, as well as any learning solution, is not a one-size-fits-all. In fact, we are huge advocates of well-planned blended learning solutions. Many of the most impactful implementations of our microlearning technology are as part of a blended learning solution, rather than stand-alone. Each program element can then leverage the strengths of its selected modality, be it a trainer-led class, elearning module, job aid, or microlearning activity. At the end of the day, programs should be measured by their impact on employee performance, more so than what delivery modalities were used in the program. Thanks again for sharing your perspective with us!

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