What is microlearning? That’s an interesting and often asked question. Is microlearning a simple text message? Is it a short video? Is it bound by time? Does microlearning need to include a quiz question? Many questions swirl and whirl around microlearning.
To help answer those questions, many different folks in the learning and development field have postulated definition. The goal is to define and corral the term. For example, in our book, “Microlearning: Short and Sweet,” Robyn Defelice and I have defined microlearning as “an instructional unit that provides a short engagement in an activity intentionally designed to elicit a specific outcome from the participant.” However, no matter how elegant or academic the definition, we find that most people only fully understand the term microlearning after they have seen some examples of microlearning. Once they see the examples, it helps put the entire concept of microlearning into perspective.
Examples of Microlearning
In that spirit of defining microlearning, let’s explore the concept by looking at three examples of microlearning and determining how they are be used by organizations to achieve success.
First Example of Microlearning
In this example, microlearning is used to help fight the disease of diabetes. While diabetes is a serious disease, it many pre-diabetic individuals, type 2 diabetes can be prevented lifestyle modifications. These modifications can include exercises, cutting down on sugary foods and beverages and generally behaving in a healthy manner. To that point, researchers studied the effective of microlearning’s ability to alter the lifestyles of Indian men with impaired glucose tolerance which is another way to say “pre-diabetic.”
The participants were randomly assigned to either a control group or a mobile phone messaging program which was a basic form of microlearning. The test group received two text messages a day encouraging them to eat right and exercise. The control group received the standard educational intervention of attending training to learn how to have a healthy lifestyle and to live better. This was traditional, stand up instruction.
After two years, the cumulative incidence of diabetes was lower in those who received the text messages than those in the control group. The results were statistically significant. In fact, the microlearning presented to the men twice daily resulted in a relative risk reduction of 36%.
This shows that microlearning doesn’t need to be fancy to be effective, it just needs to be consistent and focused. The messages the men received where behaviorally focused. Specific message sent included information such as “take the steps instead of the elevator” or “don’t snack while watching TV.” This shows that microlearning does not have to contain fancy graphics, interactive questions or even interactivity to be effective.
However, a word of caution. If you have pre-diabetes, you are intrinsically or internally motivated to eat right and be healthy so the motivation is already present. This example of microlearning shows that if a person is motivated, the microlearning can be simple.
What if the audience is not as motivated? If that’s the case, what should microlearning look like. Here is an example of microlearning that includes a highly gamified approach.
Second Example of Microlearning
In this example, the goal is to teach about processed foods and their impact on organizations and on individuals. The game encourages you to choose and avatar and then you go on a mission to go around the world to get your products certified and, in the process, you learn about the processed food industry.
This type of microlearning is an example of gamified, primary microlearning. In the previous article in this series, we defined and discussed the concept of primary microlearning (Click here to read that article). The goal of this primary microlearning is to provide the learner with instruction about processed foods so they better understand the importance of processed food and why inspection and certification are so critical to the safety of the food supply chain.
In the microlearning game, the learner takes part in a number of game activities such as identifying the types of animals typically used in processed meat, the countries were processed meet is preferred and other relevant activities.
The players of the game only need a few moments to engage with the content, learn about processed foods and continue. In this case, the microlearning is much more involved than receiving a couple of text messages a day. The microlearning includes an interactive story, game activities and specific, overt actions that the learner need to take to interact with the content. This microlearning example shows the other end of the development spectrum and sheds some light on why microlearning is so hard to define. Each of these microlearning examples are effective for the desired goals, each take a relatively short amount of time and each are considered a form of microlearning.
Third Example of Microlearning
In this example, we look at an example of microlearning designed to be a quick technical tip. In this case, the developer of the microlearning wanted to quickly teach people how to share one screen in PowerPoint and still have up the notes so the learners can only see the PowerPoint slide and not the notes (you can see the microlearning example here).
This is a microlearning example of technical training. The video provides step-by-step instruction for performing a software procedure. The instruction guides the learner to the correct area of the software, indicate which element so the software should be inactivated and which should be activated and demonstrates the results of each step of the process. The video also demonstrates the final outcome which is the ability to share a slide show while keeping your notes hidden from view of the learners.
This example of microlearning shows yet another type of training and method of providing microlearning that can be used within an organization. Microlearning is a valuable tool for helping people to both learn how to use microlearning but also how to use software.
It is easy to see how many different microlearning modules can be created to help people within an organization use a specific piece of software effectively. Software training is one area where microlearning is having a large impact.
It’s easy to see from these examples of microlearning that microlearning is not one thing. It’s not an easy concept to put into a box. It can be as simple as a text message or as engaging as a interactive game.
The value of microlearning is that it provides quick, short and concentrated moments of learning. The important thing is not to measure microlearning by time or by whether or not it has a video or a multiple-choice question or even a game. No, the way to determine if something is microlearning is to look to see if it’s focused on solving a learning or performance problem. If it solves the problem quickly with minimal interruption to the workflow of the leaner, then it’s a successful piece of microlearning