Could Microlearning be the Wave of the Future?

A recent post I ran across touted the benefits of microlearning. Microlearning (a.k.a. micro learning or micro-learning) is an emergent learning strategy known for quickly closing skill and knowledge gaps. It seems to be an ideal instructional approach for many situations because: Information changes quickly. People find it difficult to keep up with things.

Microlearning aims to present information in short chunks or bursts of learning that last about 90-120 seconds. Our compressed workplaces and explosive, rapid technological change have demanded that people learn new skills and come up to speed quickly. The time it takes to go through a microlearning lesson is about the average attention span of today’s millennials. These young multi-tasking individuals are not just your 20-25 year-old somethings working in the workplace. This trend also includes today’s elementary, middle, and high school students. The Centers for Disease Control and prevention have noted that Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Dsorder (ADHD) has been rising at a rate of about 2-4% per year. Today about 15-25% of all students in the U.S. public school systems have been diagnosed with ADHD and there are probably more who are not yet diagnosed.

This is in line with the dominant learning styles of many such learners: predominantly visual-kinesthetic learners, who learn by seeing and doing. A trip to your local public school’s Special Education Department mild/moderate disabilities class is revealing. In such classes, many–if not most, of the students will often be diagnosed with ADHD and/or processing issues that require content to be presented in shorter chunks with minimal sequencing required of the learner. What this essentially means is that you have short (< 5 minutes) attention spans coupled with information processing challenges that present unique training challenges not frequently encountered in the past.These educational phenomena make a strong case for microlearning curricula.

The challenge is taking a broadly large skill set, such as software development or web design, and breaking a typical six-month training program of courses into a series of perhaps several hundred microlearning experiences. Some highly successful examples of microlearning have appeared in the form of free or low-cost online programs. This software development courses developed by FreeCode Camp, Khan Academy, and CodeCademy, to name a few, have been highly successful in using a microlearning paradigm to deliver high-quality training.

Typically these courses use a scenario to teach skills. Each microlearning chunk, or frame, presents a narrative the learner hears or reads, along with a problem they can solve on-screen to apply what they were just taught. Initial modules are fairly simple, however, as the course progresses the content in the current frame relies on previously covered material. Many of these curricula also use a spirally-developed approach to build-in review in the course while building on new concepts. Spirally developed curricula were pioneered in the early to mid-1970s by Dr. Max Kramer at San Jose State University to improve retention of mathematics learning in public school and university students. The concept has been successfully applied to curricula of many disciplines including those found in technical training venues.

Want some help or advice on developing your next training project using a microlearning design approach, a reputable instructional designer can help make your training a highly successful reality.

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