The benefits of microlearning

Posted on Feb 09, 2015

Elearning

It’s not unusual to see elearning modules stretching beyond an hour. At Sponge we try to keep them to about 20 minutes or less. We know that’s the effective limit of continuous concentration.

Past this summit, mental capacity begins the march downhill as over-taxed brains begin to flag. Stop short in the foothills and the learning won’t have time to develop meaningful challenges or detailed understanding. According to someone who knows, our brains then need a 3-4 minute rest before returning to full effectiveness. This is the time signature of elearning. But in microlearning, 20 minutes is a lifetime.

What is microlearning?

The rise of hyper-connectivity and social networking has brought with it small, self-contained, individual chunks of learning that can be selected and consumed on demand, as the need or opportunity arises.

It is said that we learn best in very short, intense bursts, especially if we are Millennials, trained by YouTube and Twitter on a diet of 140 characters and 4-minute videos. At its most effective, microlearning is tightly focused, wholly relevant, easily consumed (read ‘video’), with high production values and the minimum of verbal content. It is also multi-platform, so nuggets of learning can be accessed by anyone (who has a smartphone) anywhere (with enough bandwidth).

Microlearning is growing in schools and colleges, and also business. Teachers use it to provide variety and self-study for students, cross-platform support giving them the opportunity to send the learning to learners’ devices rather than asking them always to converge on it.

Just in time

Businesses can use microlearning to cater for the ‘long tail’ of learning needs. While a traditional elearning course or blended programme might suit a universal need to have, say, compliance training, microlearning can be employed to answer specialised requirements. The relative simplicity of creating a four-minute explanation of software shortcuts – and only that, with little or no introduction or preamble – makes it possible and cost-effective to provide learning for only those who really need it, when they need it.

Many large organisations now try to foster cross-fertilisation between departments. A challenge successfully answered by one team may inspire a separate team, performing a different job across the hallway, to break out of their normal way of addressing a problem. Nuggets of hard-won wisdom may be presented in person or through various microlearning platforms.

Remember while you’re forgetting

Microlearning is a highly effective way to reinforce what has already been taught, and to lodge it in the long-term memory. We begin to forget soon after being taught anything, especially if the training is relatively long and complex. Studies (such as one by Dennis Rees, CEO of NexLearn) have shown that repeated short top-ups taken after initial training has finished can increase long-term retention by up to 40%.

The potential to create entire suites of elearning based on micro 'objects' is one thing. One retail client of ours is served entirely by a range of learning objects - videos, quizzes, interactions - that the learners choose according to demand and opportunity. But this is a rare example. Most organisations still ask for a single, complex course to catch and train as many staff as possible.

So consider the potential return on investment of microlearning to provide follow-ups. They’re much shorter than the traditional elearning, cheaper, easier and quicker to build. And, assuming the elearning itself provides the right grounding – hugely effective.

Explore the potential of microlearning 

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