WHAT IS MICROLEARNING?

The term microlearning has been around for a while, but it’s more than just a buzzword. It incorporates a whole array of learning techniques, each of which have been around – if not well-articulated – since the beginning of time.

So, what is it really? In essence, microlearning refers to the strategy of designing short learning resources and delivering them over a period of time. How short these resources are, what medium they use, and when, how and how often they are accessed, all depend on what you deem to be appropriate and effective, and the best fit for your learning infrastructure.

Microcontent

Microcontent is the name now given to those short, focused building blocks of any microlearning solution. How micro is microcontent? We like to think of each piece of microcontent as being a “single-outcome” resource as a good rule of thumb. If, having completed it, a learner had learned the one small thing that piece of microcontent was created to explain or show, then that’s a pretty successful outcome.

Now, what if you could repeat that short bit of learning again for the learner in the not-too-distant future, and perhaps again after that. Add to that an opportunity to practice applying this new knowledge to a situation. This is where spaced repetition, or spaced practice, comes in. Many new Learning Experience Platforms have built-in algorithms that can automatically deploy microcontent at strategic moments over a period of time, providing learning interventions for learners in the key areas where they need a certain sustained level of knowledge.

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AI and Adaptive Learning

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    Basic AI has already crept into online learning. We’re already all familiar with chatbots and instruction from a ‘human’ computer voice. But intelligent algorithms are being built into learning systems, analysing results and making intelligent decisions. The algorithms are learning and deploying changing strategies and will only continue to grow in complexity, allowing adaptive learning to become more sophisticated; it is going further than personalising a learning solution based on test results, but looks at the ability of learners to apply knowledge to real life scenarios and at the confidence demonstrated by learners in doing so.

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    In this way, intelligent software can now identify where learners fall short of the skills and knowledge required and tailor a learning path through necessary content. Platforms that support personalised learning programmes are finally catching up with the concepts of spaced practice and adaptive learning. The built-in intelligence can be constantly assessing each individual learner’s competence, and the tool will bring them along a unique learning path.

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    Your small chunks of relevant, digestible content are served up to each learner at regular intervals, repeating and reinforcing key information, and introducing new topics at an appropriate time. Competent learners can be fast-tracked through a learning programme; learners that need more time and opportunities to learn are also catered for.

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    The customisation of these deployment schedules provides for human intervention when necessary, resulting in highly focused, efficient, engaging and smart learning programmes for learners with varying needs and for strategic L&D professionals. In the past it has been challenging for organisations to effectively implement spaced practice strategies as they relied heavily on manual and time-costly efforts, and a large initial time investment to plan resources and schedules. With the growing ability of platforms to manage the auto-deployment and timed delivery of microcontent in an appropriate manner, it has resulted in the focus of learning solutions to – rightly – shift to the learning outcomes and the quality of the content developed.

Data-driven learning

The advance of AI has given rise to powerful analytics in relation to online learning. We can see now much more than just who has completed a course or achieved 8 out of 10 in a final assessment. It’s now possible to properly gauge how effective the learning is. Dashboards will now show the topics and subjects that are important for learners to be good at their jobs – as identified by the Subject Matter Experts – and show the actual competence and confidence levels demonstrated by learners in these areas. This will highlight the real skills and knowledge gaps and provide real data on which to focus effective learning strategies. It could be the key to “doing more” with an already reduced budget, or making an indisputable business case for the development of crucial or more in-depth learning resources.

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Microcontent development

You might want to adopt some small aspects of microlearning, that would complement existing learning programmes. You may have a blended learning programme in mind, and can see within it a place for microlearning. You may be as excited as we are about a full microlearning strategy, with its adaptive layers and powerful analytics, and believe it could revolutionise all your online training, including replacing your old compliance training. Whatever way your organisation might embrace microlearning, it’s hard to argue against the effectiveness of good, well-crafted microcontent. It can be deployed as standalone learning resources, or be the building blocks of a spaced learning programme, or anything in between. 

A microlearning solution also comes with the benefits of an agile development process and is flexible and scalable in nature. This brings time efficiencies and cost control and the ability to roll out training quickly.

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An engaging microlearning solution might include lots of different types of microcontent; short videos, animations, conversations, diagrams, images, infographics, interactions, text explanations, assessment questions, scenario questions. These assets can sit independently and be deployed to your learners as you see fit.

Assistance would be required from the Subject Matter Experts to refine learning outcomes, and there would be a large focus at the beginning of a programme on both really understanding the target audience and identifying the content that’s of most importance to them in their jobs. This is how the real intelligence is fed into the system and will be used to adapt and personalise a learner’s path to success.

Where to start

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Your microcontent can sit within an existing LMS, or in an independent microlearning platform, or in a microlearning platform that is integrated into your LMS.

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It can be reused and repurposed for quick outcomes

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It can replace, enhance or complement existing training.

Growing skills through a microlearning solution isn’t going to happen any faster, but user engagement tends to be much better when the content is delivered in a less-intimidating, less onerous fashion, fitting in with busy timetables.

Make an Informed choice

Microlearning isn’t the answer to everything. There are, of course, areas where macrolearning and macrocontent is more appropriate; such as larger topics where context and flow are very important. But understanding the options for learning solutions leads to more discerning choices when it comes to the challenge of meeting the needs of modern learners.

Don’t get too hung up on what a microlearning solution is or has to be – understand what its principles could mean for your organisation, and then decide to what level you might apply them.