With the rise of social & informal learning, as well as ubiquitous mobile devices (tablets, phablets, smartphones and everything in between), micro-learning as a concept and practice has taken off. In fact, clients who would earlier ask for eLearning solutions, today specify the type of eLearning solution that meet their requirements. A typical requirement statement could sound like this: “We want short capsules of learning or learning nuggets that will run on all devices. Our employees are busy and want to learn on the go.” In short, micro-learning is the need of the hour.
In this post, I have looked at micro-learning from the point of view of efficacy as well as applicability. So, here are some questions that we as learning experience designers, need to ask: What is micro-learning? When and where does it work well? What kind of learning will micro-learning not support effectively? What characteristics define micro-learning?
“Microlearning deals with relatively small learning units and short-term learning activities. Generally, the term 'microlearning' refers to micro-perspectives in the context of learning, education and training. More frequently, the term is used in the domain of E-learning and related fields in the sense of a new paradigmatic perspective on learning processes in mediated environments on micro levels.” ~Wikipedia
“Microlearning … in a wider sense is a term that can be used to describe the way more and more people are actually doing informal learning and gaining knowledge in Microcontent and Micromedia/Multitasking environments (see Microcosmos), especially those that become increasingly based on Web 2.0 and Wireless Web technologies. In this wider sense the borders between Microlearning and the complementary concept of Microknowledge are blurring.” ~Wikipedia
Typically, micro-learning or learning bytes or learning capsules work well as a component of informal learning where the learner pulls what they need to solve an immediate problem. Recently, I downloaded a couple of apps from the Amazon Appstore – one of these being on the British Museum. Whenever I want to know about a specific section or artifact or an era, I can go to the app and to that precise section and read up. It’s quite well designed with the sections appropriately segmented and can be a good companion during a walk around the museum. These bytes could be classified as micro-learning satisfying the criteria of short, accessible nuggets available at the point-of-need.
Micro-learning is effective when the nature of the learning required has some or all of the following characteristics:
- When the learning required are bytes of facts, episodes, etc., as illustrated in the museum app example above
- When it covers parts of a process or steps to be followed
- When the learning problem is simple or complicated but not too complex (complex learning is interconnected, and often, experience-based and non-transferable)
- When the learning happens in a collaborative environment like a discussion forum or a social media platform
- Where there is scope for anytime, anywhere access facilitated by technology
Micro-learning makes up an important component of one’s PLE (Personal Learning Environment) - be it tweets from the Twitter feed, blog posts & articles, or the latest You Tube video and TED Talk. These essentially comprise nuggets and bytes of content in various forms, which the learner pulls from the environment and then strings together to make sense and build a cohesive picture.
So, should micro-learning exist in a tangible form like a module, document or video?
I don’t think so. One of the most powerful forms of micro-learning could be feedback on the job. We often forget the power of a quick 5 minute input as a form of learning.
Besides, there is more to micro-learning than meets the eye. Human beings have always engaged in micro-learning or bursts of learning to acquire skills, solve challenges and lead life on a day-to-day basis. Technology is an enabler that enhances this form of learning by amplifying what we share, facilitating connection and allowing access to experts who may be in another time zone altogether. Thus, micro-learning enabled by technology can be a powerful workplace learning strategy.