The shift from “courses to resources” has been a hot topic for more than ten years. Many learning designers chop up their content. But is this really microlearning? In this article, Kirstie Greany challenges traditional perceptions and shares some ideas on how to create a successful microlearning strategy.
Microlearning: what is it?
Welcome to the industry debate. Many people would define microlearning as simply being about providing learners with tiny bites of learning material, rather than longer form modules or courses. These tiny bites could be interactive videos, podcasts, quizzes, and more. But it’s their length that is key. We’re talking two to three minutes max. And learners should have some choice about what they use and when.
In theory, this is a great idea. We know workplace learning often happens in short windows, attention spans are finite, and no one wants to drown in content—especially when the chances of it all being relevant are slim. Even if you don’t read theory about “spaced” learning, your gut feeling would tell you that dishing up ninety concurrent pages of online content doesn’t feel right.
This idea isn’t new. The shift from “courses to resources” has been a hot topic for more than ten years. Many people chop up their content. But does this in itself fix the problem?
Cake or muffins? Does it matter?
In a given day, whether I eat an entire cake (i.e., the course) or munch on five or six muffins (i.e., bite-size chunks), what’s the difference in outcome? For both, I’d probably feel a bit sick. But that’s not my point. Perhaps the cake would make me feel so full I wouldn’t be able to do anything after, whereas the muffins give me the chance to do something in between.
Actually, the difference in performance outcome is totally dependent on how good the learning experience is in each and how it relates to my personal learning and performance needs and gaps.
Just because something is shorter doesn’t mean it’s better for learning. It needs something else.
Hello, microlearning—take two
Where microlearning can have the edge over simpler resource-based approaches is by applying some structure, shape, or journey to how learners use the microbites. For example, learners focus not only on regularly spaced content or spaced recall via quizzes but also on spaced practice.
In Make it Stick, studies show that providing learners with regular challenges that enable them to practice applying skills in slightly new situations helps grow competence and memory more than other approaches, including taking challenges all in one go.
This is especially the case when those challenges gently stretch learners by getting incrementally harder.
This is where microlearning really comes into its own and creates space between it and older “resources not courses” approaches.
This is how we talk about microlearning with our customers. It’s how we define it, along with a few other leaders in our industry.
Five tips to get microlearning to work
So, with all this in mind, here are our five quick tips to creating a microlearning strategy that delivers on the “learning” as much as it does on the “micro.”
1. Start with challenges
Using an action-mapping approach or something similar, focus on the activities that will help build competence, confidence, and skills. Then, work back from that to consider what guidance, examples, expert tips, etc., learners might need to help them complete that challenge, particularly if they don’t pass it.
2. Create a scale
Work out which challenges newbies should start with and where they can go from there. You might want to create a single string of challenges that get incrementally harder. Or, in the name of choice, perhaps you offer learners a choice of challenges, all at the same level or at different levels, and each earns them different totals of points?
3. Use scores and rules to personalize the learning curve
You can send out a challenge-based microbite on a weekly basis. Alternatively, you can let learners work through the content more freely, unlocking the next challenge or level as they go. But this is where you can be supersmart. Use Rules to track their scores or opinions across multiple questions or content bites. If you know they’re struggling with something, serve up an extra challenge or set of examples to help them. You can also do this if they are all-stars; stretch them even further with a more in-depth challenge.
The idea is to create all your bites of challenge-based content and supporting content. Then, use Rules and Scores smartly so learners receive content relevant to them.
4. Build in incentives
Consider allocating scores, badges, or some kind of reward to learners when they complete a challenge. Even a simple acknowledgement at the end to say they’ve passed it will suffice. Peer-to-peer incentives are also a strong tactic to use. Use your Analytics data to highlight how many other learners have made it to a certain level, look to leaderboards, or simply show the results of social polls.
5. Create milestones
Even if the microlearning content is covering a big expanse of skills and competencies, such as leadership skills, don’t let it go on forever. Everyone needs a break, but we also need to feel a sense of completion and greater achievement.
After ten or so challenges, build in milestones that mark when learners have achieved a certain status. Help them celebrate it with social media links, badges, certificates, and more.
As with all things learning and all things design, there’s no one size fits all. But the key to getting microlearning to work is to consider the following:
- How can we work in spaced practice?
- In which ways can we create personalized pathways?
- How can I use live data to incentivize and make the experience more social?
That way, you’ll make the most of the micro for the learning. Also, don’t forget to make the content extra mobile friendly with simple, no-fuss interfaces.
If you’d like to know more about building a microlearning strategy, drop the Academy team a line to hear from one of our coaches.