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Why Is Everyone Talking About MicroLearning and Why Should You Care?

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Recently, there’s been a lot of talk in the eLearning space about MicroLearning. There are many books, webinars, and workshop sessions at learning conferences exploring various aspects of MicroLearning. Is this just the latest learning fad or is this a learning design that’s worthwhile? In this first blog of a mini-series, we’ll explore MicroLearning, why it’s now a hot topic, and why you should care about it.

What Is MicroLearning?

Although there is no agreed-upon definition of what MicroLearning is, most learning professionals include three characteristics:

  • Length of learning is short (typically between 2-6 minutes)
  • The content is self-contained
  • The focus is specific, targeted, and small

Some examples of MicroLearning that meet in this definition that you may be familiar with include:

  • Watching a YouTube Video on how to design a table in Excel (view an example). This 3 ½ minute video focuses on how to do a specific task in Excel. You do not need any prior knowledge nor files in order to learn and do this task.
  • Reading an Online Guide on how to wash jeans by hand (view an example). This short article includes step-by-step instructions of two methods to accomplish this through the use of text and illustrations. You do not need other online articles or anything else in order to learn this content.
  • Using Yelp to learn about a new restaurant (view an example). This website provides photos, menu, and more information about the restaurant as well as reviews from customers. Although you can access additional resources (such as ordering food using another service), the information in the site is self-contained.

There are other learning experiences that may seem like MicroLearning but are not, because they do not incorporate the three common characteristics. Some non-examples of MicroLearning include:

  • Looking up a Definition: Typically, this only takes a few seconds, so it is not considered MicroLearning.
  • Researching a Topic Using Google: The search results are not self-contained, as they can come from almost any place, so it is not considered MicroLearning.
  • Exploring a Broad Topic: Learning about a topic such as sales or the economy is not specific, targeted, or small, so it is not considered MicroLearning.

Why Is Micro Learning a Hot Topic?

Now that you have a solid understanding of what MicroLearning is, let’s explore the two reasons why so many people are interested in it. First, MicroLearning is an effective and pedagogically sound learning design. In other words, it works. Decades of research show that chunking content into small pieces allows the brain to process, retain, and synthesize learning. Second, mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops enable people to access content on the go – when and where they want.

When you combine the effectiveness of MicroLearning design with a platform that can deliver content that is short, self-contained, and targeted, you have a solution that everybody wants.

Why Should You Care About This?

In the modern workplace, there is a generational shift occurring. By 2020, over 50% of the workforce will be comprised of Millennials (ages 18-38). Millennials are accustomed to using mobile devices to perform many functions such as shopping, socializing, banking, and recently, learning. They expect learning in the workplace to be as simple and effective as their other mobile experiences.

As learning professionals, we need to design and develop learning experiences that meet the needs of our learners – and MicroLearning is a powerful one of those solutions. We will explore how to develop effective MicroLearning in future blog posts.

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Johnny Hamilton is a thought leader, author, and full-stack learning designer who has led projects that have resulted in over a dozen industry awards in corporate learning innovation from Brandon Hall, BIG Innovation, eLearning Magazine, and American Business Association.