It happens so often, you might not notice it. Perhaps you’re looking to solve a problem at home (How do I replace my car’s windshield wipers? How to install a video doorbell). Maybe you’re helping your 3rd grader with homework (how to mark open and closed syllables). Or maybe you’re looking to learn a new skill (learn how to code).
When we need to learn something really quickly, most of us turn to our favorite search engine and start asking questions. Depending on what (and how) you ask, you’re then flooded with endless choices: videos of varying lengths (and quality), written tutorials, blog posts, podcasts, pictures, and more. After selecting the most appropriate modality for your particular situation (and tastes), you spend the needed time digesting the content, ensuring you understand, and then hopefully following through to complete the task successfully.
Those simple, everyday scenarios are basic examples of microlearning, but it’s also a powerful educational tool for more structured settings. Microlearning is any learning that is condensed down to small segments, often focused on a specific skill, idea, or topic. It should be short, focused, and targeted, with a goal identified in the beginning, and the content designed to accomplish that goal in a short period of time (often 5–10 or even 15 minutes) 1.
Microlearning can be used in numerous scenarios, including traditional K–12 classrooms, higher education, adult learning, corporate training, self-paced learning, and even for personal knowledge or just for fun.
Does Microlearning Work in a Structured Education Setting?
The short answer, of course, is YES! Microlearning is effective because of some of its foundational principles:
- It’s short, and therefore easy to focus on and make time for
- It’s designed to be available across multiple platforms and devices
- It’s targeted, relevant, and need-driven
- It avoids cognitive overload and unnecessary learning
Research shows that microlearning is an impactful way to ensure retention, avoid mental exhaustion or overload, and maintain the engagement of the learners—all of which are critical to promoting learning. The short durations allow for repeated practice and experience, and repetition enhances the long-term retention of knowledge. Additionally, the principle of just-in-time learning (meaning it solves an immediate need for knowledge) often leads to a uniquely-high level of learner motivation and engagement, and the immediate application supports long-term retention and mastery.
Microlearning can be successfully incorporated into classrooms and structured learning settings of any level, and it offers instructors a great way to follow the learners’ interests. Most successful teachers will tell you that all learners can be engaged when they care about the topic. When students show a desire to dive deeper, teachers can introduce an age-appropriate podcast, video web series, educational game, or other microlearning modules on the topic. These tools can encourage individuals of varying learning styles to feel successful and find their own passion for learning.
When Microlearning May not Work
Microlearning is a wonderful tool in the educator’s toolkit, however, it isn’t always the best option. Some complex topics are more effectively taught through traditional, longer-form content (such as books, courses, hands-on experience, or—don’t hate me for saying so—lectures). Longer, more immersive simulations and lengthier videos can also be great alternatives to use when microlearning isn’t ideal.
While microlearning is wonderful for teaching discrete, isolated skills, what about the benefit of seeing how those skills tie into the bigger picture? And the scaffolding that comes from building upon existing knowledge via a well-planned learning design framework? In these instances, microlearning modules alone may not provide a comprehensive learning solution—however, if stitched together and properly planned, they can be used to build that scaffolding and experience.
Lastly, the timing of the microlearning should be planned carefully. If you’re using microlearning to teach a discrete skill, make sure the learner will have the chance to apply that skill in the very near future—not 6+ months from now, when the “Forgetting Curve” is in full effect.
How to Get Started on your Microlearning Creation Journey
If you’re interested in creating your own microlearning module, here are some tips for success:
1. Keep it short, relevant, and time-sensitive. What is the most essential information for the students to obtain? That answer should guide you to include the most important content and strip away everything else.
2. Keep it current! Microlearning should be faster (and less expensive) to develop than a full, more traditional course, so make sure to use the most up-to-date research and source material.
3. Meet the learners where they are. Adjust the reading level, visuals, design, interactivities—everything—to meet the learners’ needs. Remember: you are creating shorter segments of content, not oversimplifying it for the audience.
4. Be flexible, adaptive, and mobile-friendly. The content should be device agnostic and usable in various scenarios. If initial tests don’t go as well as expected, be prepared to adjust.
5. Make it accessible and inclusive. Equally as important, all content should be inclusive and representative of a wonderfully diverse student population. And don’t worry if either of these aren’t your personal areas of expertise! You can always seek support from accessibility and/or DE&I consultants (at Magic, these ideas are fundamental to the work that we do, and we are always pleased to offer guidance).
6. Make it fun and engaging. There are so many different types of microlearning that there is almost no end to the creativity you can bring to the content. You can use games, videos, interactivities, characters, sounds, visuals, and storytelling—pretty much anything can fit within this framework.
7. But perhaps most importantly, make it part of a larger learning design framework. True learning will not happen randomly, or with haphazard curriculum planning. Even really great content will fall short of achieving your goals if it isn’t scaffolded and supported sufficiently. (And if you need any help with that, I’ve got a team of experts just waiting to talk to you!)
1. I have not been able to find an official, agreed-upon time parameter to define microlearning—I’ve found sources citing everything from 1–60 minutes! Most industry experts seem to agree on 5–15 minutes, so I’m using that in my definition, but note that there’s no exact time to qualify content as microlearning.