magic of microlearningOne of you car’s headlights is out. It’s supposed to be pretty easy to replace, so you buy a new one and decide to give it a try. Where do you go for instructions? I’m guessing you’d probably try one or more of the following:

  1. Go to YouTube, or a similar site, and watch a video
  2. Run a Google search
  3. Ask someone at your local auto store
  4. Ask a family member or friend who’s knowledgeable about cars
  5. Check the car’s owner manual

They all get straight to the heart of your immediate need, “How do I change the headlight?” If you use the owner’s manual you may need to find the right section first, but chances are you’re not going to read the entire thing until you get to the page you want. That’s the main idea behind microlearning. It takes a big idea, like car maintenance, and breaks it down into a series of short, focused parts.

Here are some of the advantages of microlearning:

  • Great for quick, on-the-job reference
  • The parts make it easier for learners to quickly find what they’re looking for
  • It’s easier for learners to set aside a few minutes for learning each day than it is to set aside a few hours
  • More likely to keep learners’ attention
  • Less likely to overwhelm learners
  • Instructionally speaking, it helps course designers think in terms of pieces and steps
  • Keeping the parts focused and “bite-sized” helps prevent overly dense content
  • Takes less time to produce and approve individual parts
  • Content updates only require revisions for the affected parts, not the whole course
  • Smaller file sizes

A traditional eLearning course on car maintenance might be several hours long and have general divisions like, “Engine Maintenance,” “Tire Maintenance,” and so on. There’s lots of good information in there, but it’s not so great if you just want to know one thing. The same course, approached as microlearning, might have dozens of separate parts. But each part would cover a very specific topic, like “how to put air in your tires,” and would only be as long as it needed to be.

“Only as long as it needed to be” is pretty vague, I know. There’s discussion about how long something can be and still be considered microlearning. Personally, I think the number of minutes is less important than how directly the instruction can successfully cover all the necessary points.

Let’s go back to the headlight example. You start by checking the owner’s manual and find the right page. It has a few lines of text instructions about changing the headlight. It takes you maybe thirty seconds to read it, but when you try to follow the instructions you’re still having trouble. Frustrated, you find a how-to video online. It’s roughly three minutes long but points out one of the parts you couldn’t find before. After that you’re able to change the light.

So, the notion that “quicker is better” is only true to a certain point. Good design shouldn’t be sacrificed just to shave off a little more time.

Microlearning aims to get people the exact information they need, when they need it. The parts are quicker than a traditional eLearning course and there are lots of benefits, although microlearning can still suffer from poor design.

What do you think of microlearning, have you ever used it?

If you’d like to read more about training, learning, and instructional design check out the rest of this author’s blogs.

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