Types of Microlearning: Making the Most of Short, Focused Bursts of Instruction

Organizations large and small face the difficult task of continually ensuring their employees are up-to-date on the latest compliance training, the various aspects of their products and services and are encouraging an ethical and positive corporate culture. It’s impossible to continually take employees away from their mission critical tasks to attend lengthy, time consuming training programs to achieve all these goals. 

One solution to the balancing act of providing the right level of training while maintaining optimal performance levels is the introduction of microlearning. Microlearning can be considered an instructional unit that provides a short engagement in an activity intentionally designed to elicit a specific outcome from the participant.

However, what many organizations fail to recognize is that there is more than one type or application of microlearning. In fact, there are actually many types of microlearning and applying the right application of microlearning to the right organizational need provides the best results for an organization.  

Types of Microlearning

Here are six types of microlearning you should consider implementing within your organization. 

Primary Microlearning

Serves as a single-source or only source of content and information for a a particular topic area. As the name implies, the microlearning becomes the primary source of learning about a task, topic or skill. The goal is to provide the employee with a robust learning program giving them the skills, behaviors and tasks necessary to do their job or a portion of their job. 

One caveat is that developing primary microlearning can be a massive undertaking since piecing together a large curriculum of microlearning modules to ultimately help an employee become fully trained can be a rather time-consuming process. Of all the various types of microlearning, primary microlearning requires the most planning and coordination among the entire organization.

Preparatory Microlearning

Provides an opportunity to set up a series of planned learning initiatives to help the participant prepare for a larger learning event. The larger event can be a webinar or an all-day learning session. Preparatory microlearning is basically pre-work to be done prior to coming to a webinar, online session or classroom instruction. 

The advantage of microlearning for pre-work is that microlearning consists of small, targeted, pieces of learning, so there is limited interruption to the employee’s workflow. It doesn’t take much time for the employees to prepare for the larger learning session. This technique brings all the participants up to the same level of knowledge so instructors don’t need to cover basic content. 

Pensive Microlearning

Asks the participant to reflect on an idea, thought or concept. The goal is to have the employee think through or brain storm ideas or concepts using reflective inquiry. The participant is asked a series of questions or a single question and then prompted to respond within the microlearning or to contemplate the answer themselves. 

The intent is to hone the participant’s critical thinking, metacognition and problem-solving abilities. Of the various types of microlearning, pensive microlearning is the one design that can most help employees hone their thinking skills over the long term. 

Performance Microlearning

Guides the participant’s behavior in performing a task. Typically providing step-by-step instruction. The goal of this type of microlearning is to allow the employee to apply the microlearning immediately. It allows the participant to perform a task in the near term. 

Performance microlearning can be used for a task that is performed rarely or for a repetitive task that doesn’t need to be memorized. This microlearning is all about just-in-time performance. An example here would be using a YouTube video to change a shower faucet. 

Persuasive Microlearning

Used to modify the participant’s behavior. It gently reminds the participant of goals and prompts behaviorally focused actions. Most people don’t think of organizations as attempting to influence values or behaviors but organizations do it all the time. 

Think of the concepts of safety and ethics. Organizations want employees to behave in a safe and ethical manner. Straightforward, and matter-of-fact, instruction on how to be safe and ethical can only go so far. What is needed is to persuade the employee with emotion, peer-pressure and incentives to behave in a manner the organization desires. 

The goal of persuasive microlearning is to provide the right mix or instruction, emotional appeal and persuasive dialogue to help employees to do the right thing and behave in the right manner. Of all the various types of microlearning, it is one of the most difficult to design and implement correctly but it can have lasting positive impacts on the organization. 

Post-instruction Microlearning

Provides the microlearning participant with follow up information to remind the learner of key aspects of a larger learning event. Post-instruction microlearning distills the key concepts from a larger training program into bit-sized pieces for use as refresher content that is readily available for the learners. 

Or, it can be delivered to the employees as a reminder using a set schedule. Of the various types of microlearning, post-instruction is used to provide remediation and reminders to keep the content and information at the top of the employee’s mind when they are caught up in the hectic pace of every day work activities and may tend to forget what was covered in a training session.  

Practice-based Microlearning

Occurs when a learning application both prompts a participant to practice a particular skill and provides that participant with feedback and instruction on how to perform the skills they are practicing. This is one of the types of microlearning that is most cutting edge in terms of moving the learning and development field forward. 

Using a combination of artificial intelligence (AI), targeted algorithms, and instructional design, these types of microlearning applications help improve a person’s skills. The process involves breaking the skill into small, well-defined steps and asking the participant to practice those small steps. 

When the person practices those steps the microlearning application provides feedback that allows the person to improve their skills. Often practice-based microlearning is designed to only take a few moments a day and clearly track’s the person’s improvements and areas of need.  A number of these types of applications exist to teach management skills and even presentation skills. 

Conclusion

Given the various types of microlearning, it becomes critically important for an organization to carefully think through the application of the microlearning to fit the right organizational need.  Thoughtful examination of the organizational problem to be addressed will reveal the right type of microlearning. It’s also important to keep in mind that the various types of microlearning can be mixed and matched. 

For example, often in primary microlearning, there are elements of both persuasive microlearning and practice-based microlearning. Many learning programs include preparatory microlearning and then, after the event, provide post-instruction microlearning. Sometimes the post-instruction microlearning is combined with practice-based microlearning. Don’t be afraid to mix and match the various types of microlearning to fit your instructional goals. 

The key is to be aware of how microlearning fits into your larger learning and development strategy and to understand when and how to use the right microlearning. If you understand the types of microlearning, you’ll be in a better position to successfully deploy microlearning within your organization. 

 

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