Microlearning. We know it’s cutting-edge. We know it’s trendy. Most importantly, we know it’s effective. (Studies show microlearning can make the transfer of learning 17% more efficient and increase engagement by 50%.) But what exactly IS it? And how can we USE it in our personal and professional lives? Good questions. Let’s start with the basics…
WHAT IS MICROLEARNING?
Although a concrete definition is hard to find, it’s safe to say microlearning is a learning process with the following features:
- It’s quick. Microlearning isn’t about hours of research and time-consuming study. It’s about taking a quick moment to be your own researcher and find a select piece of information for the task at hand.
- It’s focused. Microlearning gets straight to the point. It answers the question. It fills in the missing blank. It’s a focused pursuit for a very specific piece of information.
- It’s flexible. Microlearning comes in all forms—from accessing web pages to viewing infographics to scanning text. It encompasses all types of learning, which makes it personal and adaptable.
- It’s everywhere. With instant access to information through search engines and the web, microlearning is right at our fingertips 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We can seek, find, and digest information with ease any time we need it. But the internet isn’t the only platform for microlearning. We can practice microlearning by scanning a sign or picking up a newspaper. Opportunities are everywhere.
WHEN SHOULD WE USE MICROLEARNING?
Microlearning is most helpful when used within the right context. Like everything else, it has limitations. Microlearning can’t, for example, build an entire foundation of knowledge. (In fact, if we relied solely on microlearning, we would lose a deeper knowledge structure needed in many personal and professional contexts.) However, it can be extremely helpful for filling in the “missing bricks,” so to speak, to complete or fortify an existing foundation of knowledge. Below are a few examples of when and how to use microlearning.
MICROLEARNING IS BEST USED TO…
- Fill in knowledge gaps (i.e., foundational knowledge of a subject is present, but a small piece is missing)
- Encourage professional growth and development—driving an individual toward self-training and filling in gaps in their understanding of a topic
- Provide quick reminders or a brief “refresher course” on previous learnings
- Learn complex information in small pieces which then combine to make a complete skill or knowledge base
- Fulfill the need for a quick, focused, accessible piece of information to complete a task
- Empower learners who are comfortable with technology and able to easily navigate online search engines (i.e. using Google’s search engine as a main platform for microlearning)
WHEN SHOULD WE AVOID MICROLEARNING?
Just as important as knowing when to use microlearning is knowing when not to use it. When microlearning is not the right fit, it can cause confusion and frustration, especially if deeper understanding of a subject is needed.
MICROLEARNING IS NOT A GOOD FIT FOR…
- Teaching or presenting a comprehensive learning strategy—microlearning cannot present a complete picture in and of itself
- Complex skills or tasks requiring in-depth knowledge of a subject
- Learning processes that require extensive feedback and monitoring
- Situations in which it distracts from learning, thereby defeating the purpose (i.e., when “the allure of technology” takes the focus away from content and results)
- Situations in which it may hinder long-term learning by fragmenting knowledge, making it difficult for learners to see the big picture
To best leverage the advantages of microlearning, we must understand the disadvantages. These include:
- Absence of Time-tested Results—As a relatively new learning approach, microlearning doesn’t have the advantage of time-tested research to help us understand the long-term risks and benefits
- Disjointed Learning—If over- or mis-used, microlearning has the potential to compartmentalize learning to the extent that bigger concepts are lost or never properly understood
- Disconnected Ideas—Similarly, learners may struggle to connect ideas that are scattered or unrelated
- Disorganized Learning—The diversity of microlearning also has its risks; learners can become disoriented or confused by the wide variety of information available through microlearning
Microlearning is a powerful tool which fosters efficiency, fast answers, and quick results. Like any other tool, it has its advantages and disadvantages and is not the best fit for every situation. If used in the right context, however, it can supercharge personal learning habits, encourage career development, and increase your knowledgebase in the workplace and at home. Microlearning is everywhere. In fact, at this very moment, you may be microlearning about microlearning. Keep it up and enjoy the benefits of this learning style as you leverage it for personal and professional success.
Co-author: Christine Peterson