The Road Ahead – Trends for Learning in 2018 – Microlearning

Microlearning – those short, bite sized pieces of learning content, focused typically on one discrete topic, delivered at the point of need through a variety of channels to all devices – has been around for some time now.  While its stock is still relatively high as a learning concept, we are starting to see a dawning realization that micro on its own is not the answer to all things in the design of learning.

Featuring in Donald H. Taylor’s L&D Global Sentiment Survey for 20171, it took third place in a listing of what a group of 885 learning and development (L&D) people believed would be hot in 2017. In the 2018 survey, it’s down to fifth place but continues to get attention and airtime.  He also suggests that microlearning has plateaued in North America between 2016 and 2017 but expects it to morph into a mainstream part of learning production in the coming years.2

So microlearning is still on the learning radar. It’s worth pointing out, however, that micro is poorly defined and poorly understood or at least it means different things to different people3 and, more relevantly, may often be poorly implemented.

One thing that is evident is an increasing recognition that realistically in your L&D programs, you’ll probably need both macro and micro learning. Bersin’s graph of the learner’s career path4 shows where the different types of learning might fit.

Our experience is – that micro is useful, but that macro is interesting and relevant too.

NASBA seems to agree, pointing out in their standards for nano learning (microlearning) that “nano learning is not a substitute for comprehensive programs addressing complex issues.”5

Where is micro learning going?

Microlearning as a trend will continue. People will still shout for “resources not courses,” particularly in the performance support sense, and in the workflow, this makes sense.  However, it will gradually cease being over-hyped as it becomes merely one more tool in the arsenal of any blend. Already we are seeing some sense that not all users are as enamored about micro for formal learning; “If you gave me the option to take a 30-minute course versus a series of 5 minute pieces, I’d take the 30 minutes.”  People are getting a greater understanding of where it’s useful, where not so much and it may ultimately find its rightful place as an obvious technique, like any other obvious principle or technique, e.g., storytelling techniques are good for communicating key messages in a learning program.

We believe

  • Microlearning as a technique is relevant, not least because it directs us to figure out what you want to say in your learning and to go short and discrete when you say it.
  • Microlearning maps to the neuroscientific concept that most people’s focus is of the order of 15-20 minutes.
  • Microlearning makes sense because it drives organizations to remove extraneous material, going with essential only.
  • Microlearning often needs an impactful medium to achieve its full potential, e.g., video, audio, animation, etc., although it can be as simple as an interactive pdf.
  • Microlearning suits performance support, real-world type application and may map more to early novice learning rather than later mid-career or mastery level.
  • Microlearning really comes into its own when it’s blended into a more coherent learning strategy.

Think micro and spaced together

One powerful strategy for learning is to integrate a spaced model with the micro model, in other words, push out a model that includes small bundles of content that are then reinforced through a series of spaced interventions delivered over time.

Incorporated in a spaced model, microlearning offers a core set of elements and interactions not necessarily in a linear manner but delivered nonetheless to assure both robust and embedded learning and equally – using techniques of spaced learning such as retrieval, commitment and practice – the creation and maintenance of habit.

Intuition’s series The Road Ahead: Trends for Learning 2018 looks at the changing face of learning and, against that backdrop, examines what we see as the most significant emerging digital learning trends. 

Part 1: Preview

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3The Elearning Guild Report published (January 2018): The State of Micro Learning by Pamela S. Hogle, which surveys eight eLearning leaders collated a variety of views on microlearning.