Microlearning: Education to Fit Anyone’s Schedule & Budget

The ASAE Foundation named microlearning as a “driver of change” in their ForesightWorks research project. Their Drivers of Change report predicts:

“Workers will need to continually learn, but many want small, specific bursts of information tied to immediate job demands, available at a time of their choosing… Certification will need to change to allow microlearning modules to be assembled in innovative combinations for new forms of certification.”

Microlearning may sound trendy, but it’s supported by brain science and it’s here to stay. 

A quick primer on microlearning

Microlearning is the delivery of small, engaging chunks of educational content spaced out over time. Experts haven’t defined a duration but each piece of microlearning content can usually be consumed in 7 to 10 minutes. Each “chunk” is focused on a narrow topic and a single learning outcome.

Many of your members and prospects may have experienced microlearning if they’ve taken an online course from a MOOC, like Coursera or EdX. In a typical MOOC, a course is made up of modules. Each module is broken down into lessons that contain content or activity chunks. Examples of microlearning formats include: 

•    Short videos and podcasts
•    Reading: articles and case studies
•    Q&A reviews, quizzes, and self-assessments
•    Competitive quizzes and activities
•    Reflective exercises
•    Group discussion prompts
•    Brainstorming and ideation activities

An Associations Now article explains how two associations use microlearning. Your association could provide microlearning programs to help learners: 

•    Become familiar with new legislation or regulation.
•    Prepare for an exam.
•    Improve a people skill, such as time management, email communication, or having difficult conversations.
•    Improve a professional skill, such as project management, data analytics, or database report writing.
•    Master an in-demand business technique, process, tactic, or practice.

You could fill a learning pathway with modules containing chunks of microlearning content. When learners complete the pathway and demonstrate mastery of the skills and/or knowledge, they earn a certification or microcredential along with a digital badge.

Use microlearning to build upon conference learning by providing a post-conference learning experience. You could also use it to introduce or preview an online course, or serve as a prerequisite for a course or workshop.


The brain science behind microlearning

Microlearning is backed by science but not because we have the attention span of a goldfish—that’s junk science. One scientist said the idea of an “average attention span” is meaningless. “[Attention is] very much task-dependent. How much attention we apply to a task will vary depending on what the task demand is.”

Scientists say microlearning appeals to us because we have limited patience for uninteresting or difficult information, plus we frequently get interrupted. A typical office worker spends only 11 minutes on a task before being interrupted with an unrelated demand on their attention. 

Microlearning works because it delivers a series of bite-sized content to the learner over time. Spaced content helps information stick in the brain’s long-term memory. The learner builds up knowledge bit by bit, one piece on top of the other.

This repetition over time cues the brain to retain the information. Repetition and practice reinforce the memory because the brain must repeatedly recall and apply that piece of information.

How learners benefit from microlearning

Microlearning fits into the limited time your members and other audiences have for professional development. People want control over how, when, and where they learn. Microlearning’s mobile-friendly content delivery makes it possible to learn between meetings, while on public transportation to or from work, or while driving to work—if you offer short audio segments (podcasts). 

Learners get a satisfying educational experience without information overload. If they need to learn something quickly, they get immediate results. They feel a sense of progress as they move through microlearning units, repeatedly accomplishing achievable and motivating goals.


How associations benefit from microlearning

With microlearning as one of your educational strategies, your association can respond to market needs and roll out new programs more quickly.

Microlearning is less expensive to produce. It’s also easier to tweak and update than traditional courses. Plus, you can repurpose microlearning units as part of a larger program or course.

You’re more likely to attract prospective learners who are short on time and, with microlearning’s lower price point, short on funds. When people participate in microlearning, they can explore the other programs hosted on your LMS. As a result, microlearning serves as an introduction to your other online learning programs and a gateway to a deeper commitment to learning.

Factors to consider when designing microlearning 

Microlearning is not the ultimate solution for all learning needs. If learners need to build deep knowledge and skills, microlearning may not be the best choice. Learners might need more opportunities to apply knowledge and practice skills than microlearning’s short bursts of time allow. 

The effectiveness of microlearning depends entirely on its instructional design. Each unit must focus on only one learning outcome. All parts of the experience must support and integrate with each other. Provide content reviews throughout the program so the learning experience doesn’t become fragmented. Learners need opportunities to recall and apply what they learn—this reinforces the retention of new information in their long-term memory. 

Build performance feedback into the program—a critical part of the learning process. Accompany microlearning programs with access to an online learning community where people can apply new knowledge, share ideas, and get to know their peers. 

Because learners need to return to the content regularly, use email notifications to send out links to the next lesson. When students complete one learning pathway, suggest related content or next steps. 

As industries, professions, and jobs change, members and others working in or entering your professional community need to improve and update their skills and knowledge. With microlearning, your association can provide the education they need in a way that fits anyone’s schedule and budget.

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