The 6 hottest learning trends for 2018 – Part 4: Microlearning

A few weeks ago we highlighted an interesting article on the 6 hottest learning trends for 2018. In our blog post of April 11 we introduced augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), followed that up with a more in-depth look at artificial intelligence (AI) on April 17, and app-based learning on May 8. Today we delve into another of the 6 trends: microlearning. If you’ve enjoyed reading about these trends or want to share how you’re integrating them into your training, be sure to post a comment below, and stay tuned as we continue this series.

What is microlearning?

Microlearning has increasingly become the buzzword on the lips of instructional designers and elearning specialists everywhere. Ask an industry leader what microlearning is and you’ll probably get many different opinions. What experts do agree on is that you don’t just chop up a 60-minute elearning module or video into smaller five- or 10-minute pieces and call it microlearning. The State of MicroLearning 2018 eLearning Guild report includes variations on the same theme:

  • It’s low-effort, fast to design and develop, quick to apply and useful (just in time).
  • It allows people to solve and improve issues and situations at work.
  • It focuses on a single task-based objective or idea that can be easily consumed and digested, then applied on the job to change behaviours.
  • It can take any format and doesn’t have to be expensive to create.
  • It should be instantly available when needed through cross-platform access.
  • It should be searchable.

Why is this all important?

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Increasingly we all find our time in constant demand. We have multiple projects, frequent interruptions, constant distractions, and an ongoing expectation that we be “on” all the time to respond to the bleeps of our devices in real time. And even if we do find ourselves with a stretch of uninterrupted time, we’re so programmed to multi-task and react to multiple stimuli that we often can’t concentrate on one thing for more than a few minutes.

We’ve quickly become adept at parsing this incoming stream, whether through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or other sources, and somehow skimming off the details we need to be productive.

The intersection formed by information overload and our own growing ability to navigate that information is what makes microlearning so fitting. As technology and the information stream has sped up over the last two decades, we’ve adapted to “grazing” on information rather than digesting it as a lengthy full course. It’s only natural that learning professionals respond to this shift in our information “appetite” by breaking learning up into bite-sized useful snacks rather than meals.

What are some benefits of microlearning?

Convenience. Workers can access small bursts of training when they need it. For employees who are pulled a dozen ways by work demands, an eight-minute tutorial accessible by smartphone is something they can probably accommodate.

Relevance. Small chunks of engaging learning, delivered just in time based on the learner’s preference, mean they arrive when they’re relevant and can be applied immediately to a job situation or challenge. This in turn makes the learning “stickier”; the act of applying it at work reinforces it and makes it more valuable.

Effective in work environments where disruption occurs. 71% of people report frequent interruptions at work. We’re almost programmed to look up every eleven minutes or so, expecting to be distracted. Microlearning can fit into this work pattern by being accessible when and where the employee wishes to change gears and learn something new. And once they’re done, they can get right back to work.

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Less fatiguing. Ever have that sense of being overwhelmed after a day-long workshop or even a lunch-hour seminar? Cognitive overload is a reality these days, and microlearning is a credible answer to it. Learning in small doses can be invigorating rather than tiring; it can even rev employees up about the next piece of learning.

Works well with mobile devices. If it incorporates video, it’s easier to stream small segments on mobile devices.

More individualized. Workers can select the pieces they want to learn and leave the rest. This makes them feel their time is respected, which increases engagement.

Helps with the “forgetting curve.” There’s an adage that we forget nearly 80% of what we learn within 30 days if it doesn’t get reinforced. Microlearning can be that reinforcement. It can take the form of job aids and reminders, or small quizzes that buzz the learner on their knowledge to ensure it stays top of mind.

Better completion rates. Short training sessions mean less chance of interruption and less chance that training will be abandoned, which in theory translates into higher completion rates.

Learners prefer it. A study from the Rapid Learning Institute found that 94% of learners prefer modules under ten minutes long.

Cost-effectiveness. Microlearning content can be developed quickly and doesn’t require the extras that go with traditional learning, such as classroom space, instructors or materials.

Easier to develop and update. Smaller self-contained chunks of content require less input to develop, and when they need updating they can be replaced in a modular fashion, or tweaked with less demand on resources than lengthier courses. It’s also easier to let go of a small chunk when it’s no longer useful than it is to let go of a large course, which is a consideration for companies thinking about the “sunk cost” of training, who might otherwise hang on to old materials because they represent a large investment.

It fits with longer courses. Microlearning can be a small piece of a larger learning program (e.g., job aids, reminders, games).

What should L&D professionals keep in mind when developing microlearning?

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  • Many industry experts agree that up to ten minutes is ideal; however, there is no hard-and-fast rule about length.
  • Microlearning should be able to stand alone. The learner should have the sense of completing something, producing a sense of success.
  • Microlearning should address only one objective, issue or situation.
  • The learning needs to be meaningful—not just a distraction.
  • The learning should be visually engaging—appealing to look at and/or listen to.
  • Functionality should be straightforward—no lengthy load times or intros. Remember, this is all about respecting the learner’s time.
  • If a suite of microlearning is being designed, each piece should be labelled in sequence so the learner understands the logic of it and can tackle it in an order that makes sense.
  • The learner should also be able to go back to it and find information if necessary, so it should be searchable.
  • Design with mobile in mind, because that’s the device the learner will most likely use to access the learning.

Where can I find more info about microlearning?

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Are you using microlearning in your training? Drop us a line and tell us what’s working for you.

Click here for Part 5 in our blog post series on the 6 hottest learning trends for 2018.