Why Are We Still Talking About Microlearning?

Years ago, I had a director who had perfected the art of what our team called the “drive-by”.  A drive-by from this director involved him asking you for a “really quick favor” in which you would be asked to work on a pet-project of some sort that often involved a new technology or new industry trend he wanted to try out. These projects ranged from the latest video technologies, new StoryLine features, Moocs, gamification, leaderboards, performance support, etc… If ATD or other industry leaders had it on their radar, he had a pet-project targeted. Being asked to be involved was a compliment, even if other work had to be balanced when asked.

As a junior designer and developer, one of my drive-by projects was implementing and evaluating a series of microlearning courses. At the time, microlearning was a relatively new concept, and in my opinion, a shiny object for directors to chase. In what world, I would ask myself, are people taking a few three-minute multimedia courses and getting anything from it?

Same Theory, Different Approach

What I learned from that initiative and in several courses since is that microlearning isn’t a giant departure from what we all know about sound instructional design. Microlearning uses traditional learning theories with divided and spaced content. The smaller content bundles with spaced recall aided in buy-in and retention in our projects. Reshaping our approach to these courses gave us an opportunity to have a sharper focus on our learner outcomes.

Learner Motivations

Motivating learners to take several short courses over days or even weeks is a departure from taking one 20-minute course. When people talk about microlearning, they often want to talk about the device on which they envision participants taking it or the age and attention span of the learner. I think that is a mistake. Those are best guesses and not always helpful in developing strategy. Instead,  I suggest you approach engagement in microlearning the same way it is approached in courses. What does that engagement look like? The answer to that question is one of the first steps in shaping your microlearning program.

Further Reading

Recently ATD published a book by Karl M. Kapp and Robyn A. Deflice called Microlearning Short and Sweet. I’ll be honest, I thought this subject had been pretty exhausted years ago, and I was surprised to see a new book about it. However, I think this book is worth the read. It stands out from other documents on this subject in that it reminds readers that any approach to instructional design needs to remain grounded in sound design. That holds true for any “drive-by” or shiny object batted around in our industry.

What are your thoughts on Microlearning? Let’s talk about it in the chat below!

5 thoughts on “Why Are We Still Talking About Microlearning?

  1. And if my thoughts continue, I think we *should* still be talking about Microlearning, just as we should still be talking about all sorts of other formal and informal ways for people to do things better. It’s one of those tools that belongs in the bigger tool belt.

  2. It seems to me that Microlearning is the catchy buzzword, but to me the *intent* is learning-in-flow. I think having L&D teams develop bite-sized chunks in a formal way is one aspect of a much bigger concept. We engage in Microlearning – in ways formal and informal – every day. Searching YouTube on your phone to figure out how to fix a leaky faucet, searching Google on your laptop to figure out how to create pivot tables in Excel or a 5-minute pre-read of content before a strategic planning session could all fall under the umbrella of Microlearning, no?

    • Yes, and that also falls under performance support. I think what you just hit on is interesting because suddenly we can start throwing all kinds of terms at it and what we are really talking about is finding the right design for our courses. I agree (and I hope this was clear in the post) we should be talking about Microlearning along with other types of learning. We are in a place where there are a lot of approaches to course design and it is exciting that we have enough information out there that supports the good and separates the bad. Microlearning is a good approach to many courses. I think at first it was just a shiny object, but many people have worked hard in our industry to make it much more than that.

  3. I can understand why folks feel like microlearning is old news. However, it is still the way we learn outside of work. Until we completely mirror that inside of work, microlearning will still be an important topic.

    • Honestly, now that I am reading this book, I think it is more relevant than it has been in a while. Maybe it is just for the projects I am working on, but I see more microlearning in my future, not less. JD Dillon wrote a post recently where he said he thinks they will start calling microlearning something else. I wonder if that would be good to shake things up and reinvigorate the energy around this approach to learning. People obviously have a lot of opinions about the word Microlearning, I know I do.

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