Microlearning has to step up and be more than a rebrand of bite-sized. So what can be done differently to create a fully rounded experience?
A few years ago, "bite-sized learning" became a common buzzword in elearning circles. As a departure from non-stop, 45-minute or greater sessions, designers began chopping learning up into more manageable chunks. These smaller pieces are easier to fit into multiple sessions, and allow learners to explore content in less linear ways.
However, bite-sized presents its own challenges. It takes greater sleight of hand to construct complex narratives and storylines. It's harder to design learning curves while giving the learner the freedom to roam. It can all pile up and add to learners' content shock.
Microlearning has to step up to these challenges to be more than just a rebrand of bite-sized. Here's some tips for creating a rounded experience:
Create episodic learning
A learning nugget is a building block within a microlearning programme. It might be a tutorial, video, activity, infographic, quiz, game, fact-sheet, group activity, offline task or one of a host of other things. To be effective, a nugget must be focused due to their compact nature – videos and audio should be no longer than two minutes each and no nugget longer than five.
Within a programme, several nuggets might cover the same objective from different angles. In this format, microlearning can actually feature richer content and more of it than a traditional course as it presents it in a manageable, episodic way. You could use it to deliver hours of stuff, in fact – all of which can be plotted against a steady learning curve. Similar to our thinking on campaign-based learning.
For a standalone piece of microlearning, consider your audience, what they need and how they'll encounter the learning. The basics of a good nugget still apply. Decide what your main learning point and takeaways are and stick ruthlessly to the necessities.
Think carefully about where your learner can go next and what other resources exist. No learning exists in a vacuum – it's all part of a learner's longer journey.
Be a curator
If you've already got existing resources, reuse them – curate before you create.
Space out that practice
Spaced practice perhaps isn't being namedropped as much as microlearning, but it's something we should all be doing. It asks learners to complete practice activities over days, weeks or even months. By leaving a gap between the learning and the activity, learners get a both a revision opportunity and they prove that knowledge is embedded over time - but it's also proven to embed learning much more deeply, than, say, repeated recall. Because it's expected that learners will complete a microlearning programme over multiple sessions, it's easier to space out this practice. Reflective activities can ask learners to reflect on how they've actually applied skills so far rather than on hypothetical situations.
Focus on mobile
Microlearning is perfect for the train, a waiting room or a quiet time on the shop floor. Nuggets are perfectly formed for filling gaps in people's days, as well as dedicated learning time.
Short and focused nuggets make for great job aids. If they work, people may well want to bookmark and share these with others. This moves training from a push to a pull, where your learning is being discovered all the time and being used in contexts you hadn't anticipated. Learners might have specific feedback and be hungry for more – you'll want to capture this.
Comments, ratings and polls are common ways to allow people to talk about, add to or feedback on nuggets. You can use this conversation to build on your creations and curated content. Perhaps your audience can share further stories, advice and tips to build on your learning. In this sense, your microlearning might be the instigator of organisation-wide sharing activities. Or maybe your audience can suggest their own sequences of nuggets and share these – a bit like their own learning mix tapes.
Reward and gamify
Structured microlearning programmes might feature a shed-load of stuff to get through. It's important to give learners clear progress updates to keep them motivated. 'Leveling up' is one way of giving learners that pat on the back for their efforts. For example, the learner might score points to climb the ranks via honorific titles (rookie, hot shot, master, guru, etc.). Alternatively, they might be awarded badges for completing certain benchmark activities. Microlearning is also ripe for gamification by adding mini-games to your arsenal of nuggets, so you might want to add high scores and leaderboards to the mix.
Don't be scared to lock things down
To manage the learner's journey through a programme, you may want to lock their progress in some ways. With a managed journey, you can push content to learners and even control the time periods over which specific learning is staggered. You might let them freely explore within subsets of content, but you might also want them to achieve a certain level to progress from, for example, beginner-level topics to advanced-level topics. If you expect learners to come in at different levels of experience, you can use diagnostics to start them off at the right point for them and to personalise their journey. Careful locking of some content can be a great tool in maintaining a cohesive, designed learning experience.
But even a fairly linear journey can be supplemented by social learning aspects, links and optional resources to give freedom and choice.
Deliver it well
An intuitive, easy-to-access platform is just as important as the content when it comes to microlearning. Picture an LMS page that keeps learner progress and scores. The page launches simple HTML resources and unlocks content as the learner develops. Strip out any unnecessary features and let learners get to the next piece of content as quickly as possible.
So where will we see microlearning succeed?
Microlearning might initially seem best-suited to two extremes: quick, simple messages or longer programmes that benefit from multi-layered concepts and repeated practice. The latter type of microlearning has really taken off in language learning (such as Duolingo and memrise). Elsewhere, think soft-skills like leadership or perhaps learning certain processes or behaviours.
Think personalised top-ups
Imagine new subject areas being added to your daily prescription of learning nuggets and practice activities as your learning needs develop and change. Personalisation comes into its own with microlearning. But it's also exciting to think that timely nuggets could completely eclipse the yearly compliance refresher by creating learning cultures where knowledge and skill areas are continually topped up. It's about delivering small strings of content to an individual, or even connecting them up into hybrid programmes. The underlying principle is one of building blocks – a constructivist's dream.
So much is possible. Even if your learning's micro, there's no reason to think small. And it certainly shouldn't be shallow.