What is Microlearning?
Perhaps the simplest way of explaining microlearning is that it is bite-sized bursts of knowledge, usually 10 minutes or less that are focused on very specific, targeted learning objectives. Microlearning modules are short objects that should stand on their own, but may sometimes be chained into longer learning events or learning paths. It can be watching a short video, viewing a flashcard, a short article or book summary, playing a quick game, a social interaction or listening to a podcast. It is helpful to engage multiple senses whenever possible to support different learning styles so the use of audio, video, animation, text and interaction is helpful.
Microlearning also benefits from the old advertising adage of frequency, frequency, frequency. This repetition of message over time helps to cement the ideas. As David Allen, creator of the Getting Things Done time management programs put it "short lessons, delivered consistently over time can create big change."
Microlearning can be oriented around storytelling, puzzle solving or any number of activities. Athena has found that perhaps the most powerful approach is a combination of descriptive and prescriptive delivery. A story or explanation helps set the context of a lesson followed by step by step, action-oriented advice for the solution. This combination helps make the information more relatable to the learner and provides them with ideas for implementation.
Microlearning should be accessible over mobile devices as well. Today's learners want information when they need it and that might be at home or on the road.
Multiple Devices, less than 10 minutes
What is Microlearning good for?
Microlearning can be used in many ways to support organizational training and development efforts. As mentioned before, when a singular message is delivered consistently over time it can help create or reinforce behavioral change.
Microlearning modules can also be combined or 'chained' to create deeper dives or learning paths. You could use video to introduce a topic, a short case study, a threaded discussion for sharing insights, a book summary and a short quiz, presentation or other user activity to reinforce the knowledge and measure retention.
Microlearning is often used as a blended learning solution. In fact AthenaOnline created a platform called Leveraged Learning for its sister company The Institute for Management Studies to reinforce the concepts presented in its full day workshops with business thought leaders. Participants are given 30 days of access to a special site with supporting articles, microlearning videos and threaded discussion. This helps them remember what they learned during the program and share key concepts with others in their organization.
As a meeting starter Microlearning objects can help focus ideas and be a great way to get discussions going around key topics.
Be aware that microlearning is not for everyone and certainly not for every need. Sometimes people need to go deeper than what microlearning can provide. It cannot replace traditional pedagogical fundamentals of education and learning, but it can be a very powerful way to supplement them.
Does Microlearning replace other types of training and development?
No. Microlearning is a unique style of delivery all its own. It does not provide the same depth of knowledge as extended, live programs, reading a book or even longer e-learning applications. It also lacks the engagement that can be enjoyed with a room full of participants working with each other and learning from their interactions in active learning exercises. Yes, some of that can be achieved with threaded discussions or other online interaction, but it does not have the same impact. While microlearning may incorporate short simulations it is not the same as coaching and mentoring or on the job training.
Microlearning is a great way to support those learning activities however. It can be used to reinforce lessons used in live activities. Imagine filming portions of a classroom program, breaking it down into a 'best of' series and then sharing that with a wider audience. Microlearning is a great way to share ideas that people might otherwise never have the benefit of receiving due to time, location or cost. If an employee needs to learn how to deal with a difficult coworker they may not be able to wait 8 months for that class on human behavior.
Do not think of microlearning as a replacement for other learning, but as a supplement. It is not 'either or,' but 'both and'. It is an approach that appeals to a younger generation of workers who grew up on YouTube and smartphones.
What role has AthenaOnline played in the development of Microlearning?
Athena developed some of the first microlearning for training and development in the early 1990's as a part of our award-winning New Leader series of CD-ROM e-learning programs, which combined longer lecture and case-study materials with short bursts of wisdom to help support the learning.
After running a pilot program followed by interviews with senior HR leaders of Fortune 1000 companies Athena found that learners were gravitating toward shorter, quick-hit, bite-sized lessons over the deeper dive. Attention spans were becoming shorter and people were, even then, feeling the pressure to get things done as quickly as possible.
Athena decided to take a radical departure from the way online learning was going and began to work with faculty like Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, best-selling author of What Got You Here Won't Get You There, David Allen, author of Getting Things Done and Dr. Rick Kirschner, co-author of Dealing with Difficult People to break their knowledge down into short, highly-targeted lessons that could be delivered using video over the internet which we called SmartBytes™.
Athena launched our first video-based, microlearning lessons on the internet in 1999, a full 6 years before YouTube was founded. Admittedly, our somewhat radical approach to learning got us kicked out of more than a few offices with comments like "short lessons are worthless, people need 3 hours or longer to learn anything" or even "video on the internet will never take off, you should stick to text."
Fortunately AthenaOnline was able to weather the initial, negative reactions to this new form of learning and continue to build on what we were hearing from users of this new methodology. As a new generation of learners, who grew up on YouTube entered the workforce Athena's approach to learning was exactly what they were looking for. Athena was also a forerunner in mobile delivery becoming an Apple staff pick for mobile delivery in 2008.
Now with a library of over 2,700 lessons and an extremely robust learning portal that can be customized to fit each organization's unique needs AthenaOnline is not only a pioneer, but a leader in the delivery of this 'new' form of learning.