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Why Are We Still Talking About Microlearning?

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Years ago, I had a director who had perfected the art of what our team called the “drive-by”.  A drive-by from this director involved him asking you for a “really quick favor” in which you would be asked to work on a pet-project of some sort that often involved a new technology or new industry trend he wanted to try out. These projects ranged from the latest video technologies, new StoryLine features, Moocs, gamification, leaderboards, performance support, etc… If ATD or other industry leaders had it on their radar, he had a pet-project targeted. Being asked to be involved was a compliment, even if other work had to be balanced when asked.

As a junior designer and developer, one of my drive-by projects was implementing and evaluating a series of microlearning courses. At the time, microlearning was a relatively new concept, and in my opinion, a shiny object for directors to chase. In what world, I would ask myself, are people taking a few three-minute multimedia courses and getting anything from it?

Same Theory, Different Approach

What I learned from that initiative and in several courses since is that microlearning isn’t a giant departure from what we all know about sound instructional design. Microlearning uses traditional learning theories with divided and spaced content. The smaller content bundles with spaced recall aided in buy-in and retention in our projects. Reshaping our approach to these courses gave us an opportunity to have a sharper focus on our learner outcomes.

Learner Motivations

Motivating learners to take several short courses over days or even weeks is a departure from taking one 20-minute course. When people talk about microlearning, they often want to talk about the device on which they envision participants taking it or the age and attention span of the learner. I think that is a mistake. Those are best guesses and not always helpful in developing strategy. Instead,  I suggest you approach engagement in microlearning the same way it is approached in courses. What does that engagement look like? The answer to that question is one of the first steps in shaping your microlearning program.

Further Reading

Recently ATD published a book by Karl M. Kapp and Robyn A. Deflice called Microlearning Short and Sweet. I’ll be honest, I thought this subject had been pretty exhausted years ago, and I was surprised to see a new book about it. However, I think this book is worth the read. It stands out from other documents on this subject in that it reminds readers that any approach to instructional design needs to remain grounded in sound design. That holds true for any “drive-by” or shiny object batted around in our industry.

What are your thoughts on Microlearning? Let’s talk about it in the chat below!

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