The benefits and opportunities of small learning units
Both our everyday lives and the world of work are becoming increasingly fast paced due to new technologies. Where before we would have used reference books, all we have to do now is a quick Google search. Nevertheless, long-term employee training remains a decisive factor in the success of any company. Training formats therefore have to be flexible and adapt to the way we live. If new knowledge is presented in clear, small, solution-focused bites, learning can be integrated into learners’ everyday life whenever they like—when they need it in the office or working from home, on the train, in a coffee break, or in the evening for a few minutes on the couch. The approach known as microlearning (i.e., learning in small units) is particularly effective, because it enables learning to take place gradually and over a longer period of time.
This article provides basic information about microlearning, and describes all the benefits that it will bring to your company and your learners. It also gives examples of microlearning, and provides an overview of the most common forms.
What is microlearning?
With each technological advance, the world of work has accelerated. As a result, there has been rapidly increasing demand for knowledge to be made available quickly and for problems to be solved fast. Networked technologies are everywhere, and they also enable us to meet this demand: We google solutions on our smartphones—whether we’re looking for a dinner recipe, information on building a shelf, or a video tutorial on playing the ukulele. The same thing is happening in the agile world of work. The effect of this is that we no longer stock up on knowledge, but acquire it through a Google search in response to problems and needs, often before, after, or during work. This informal learning is already going on, and is worth supporting: In contrast to complex web-based training courses involving hours of study, knowledge can also be taught in small units and thus in line with our new learning habits. This is known as microlearning
Microlearning units require learners to spend between 1 and a maximum of 15 minutes learning; they are presented in a range formats depending on the content involved. Formats thus include explanatory videos, short quizzes, flashcards, infographics, and “nuggets”.
Microlearning features at a glance
- Informal, needs-based learning
- Short, self-contained units
- Duration of units: 1 to max. 15 minutes
- Immediate and direct feedback
- Any time, anywhere, any device
Differences between macro- and microlearning
- Learning to use Adobe Photoshop.
- Being able to use the new project management software.
- Being familiar with German data protection regulations.
- Completing an onboarding process at the new workplace.
- Brightening an image in Photoshop
- Creating a new task in the project management software, recording progress, assigning project files.
- What is personal data? What data protection issues do you need to consider? Who is responsible for data protection?
- Take a virtual tour of the canteen, photocopying room, and quiet rooms.
In which situations and for whom is microlearning suitable?
Since the short, individual units involved with microlearning can cover any knowledge you like in a variety of formats, they can be used for everyone, and for all levels of seniority. For example,
- Training for people changing their career, including: Instructions for setting up new workstations / equipment
- Providing long-term employees with new knowledge or skills, such as: How to use the videoconferencing tool or
- a “refresher” for managers. Example: Tips for introducing a new project management methodMicrolearning is always useful when people need knowledge relating to specific problems or situations.
Benefits of microlearning
Microlearning brings many benefits—for learners and for companies. Compared with macrolearning, employees find that microlearning makes everyday life easier, supports them by providing specific knowledge in the workplace, and also increases their value to the company. And at the same time, microlearning enables new employees who arrive at the company to work even more effectively and take on new tasks quickly, without putting too much strain on working hours by having to spend time learning. The interests of companies and employees thus go hand in hand.
However, in order to take full advantage of the numerous benefits of microlearning, it is important that you check whether the content you wish to communicate is in fact suitable.
We are best able to retain and retrieve knowledge when we have learned it in small bites and then revised and applied it over and over again.
Relevant knowledge when you need it
The short learning units, which can be accessed on the move at any time, allow learners to get started quickly—when they need to know something or at a suitable time for them.
Solution-focused and practical
Microlearning is the best way of communicating content when a practical solution is needed within a short time. Learners can apply what they have learned immediately.
Saves time and money
Microlearning not only saves time for the learners themselves, but also for your company: Practical knowledge can be conveyed in a short time; units can be adapted to employee’s precise knowledge levels.
Small learning units are ideal for integrating into everyday routines and make it possible to learn any time and anywhere—on the train to work, during coffee breaks, or in the evening while dinner is in the oven.
Microlearning can be easily combined with other digital or analog learning formats to create an effective learning journey. It allows you to prepare or review complex seminars, for example, which in turn makes it easier for learners to apply such knowledge, thus improving learning outcomes.
Quick to create
In contrast to broader online courses, you can quickly create and roll out small units of knowledge, thus reducing internal development time.
Subdividing a big learning objective into smaller units means that with the right authoring tool you always have the option to recycle individual modules and integrate them into new courses.
Forms of microlearning
Whereas we tend to forget text that we have read relatively quickly, we retain information much better if we can have a direct influence on what is happening on screen. Whether it’s through interactive tabs, drop-down boxes, image and text carousels, accordions, buttons, hotspots, interactive flip cards, or videos, the more learners can interact with content, the faster they will climb the learning curve. Don’t be afraid to take full advantage of all the interactive features on offer.
Videos are popular! YouTube has nearly 2 billion users across the world who log in and view 1 billion hours of video every day. In addition to their entertainment value, they are an ideal medium for learning, as they enable both visual and auditory acquisition of content. They thus appeal equally to two different sensory organs—and thus two different learner types. The result? According to one study, we are 22 times more likely to retain content communicated via video than mere facts.
Quizzes make use of elements that are typical of games and thus appeal to learners’ emotions in a variety of ways: The innate play instinct, ambition, and imaginary competition all promote learning through play. This enables learners to revise knowledge and acquire new knowledge.
Flashcards are digital versions of the analog index cards: Short, pithy, engaging. They are ideal consolidating factual knowledge, for example, in the same way as we used to use analog cards in school. A professional flashcard tool should be able to present specific cards to individual learners automatically depending on what they’ve remembered and what they haven’t.
Infographics are always useful when you need to present data and numerical values clearly. They help learners grasp interdependencies and trends quickly. The use of icons and colors helps visual learners in particular to absorb information.
Types of infographics:
- Statistical infographics
- Process graphics
- Geographical infographics
The bottom line
Microlearning is the solution for learning in the modern age: It not only makes your employees’ everyday life easier, it also identifies immediate solutions for urgent problems. It makes employees feel supported in the workplace, and benefits companies because employees spend less time studying. And the short learning units mean that learners retain knowledge for longer. Learning is still great fun and may even be more fun because the shortness of the units reduces learners’ inhibitions. In short: The efficiency of microlearning reduces learning stress without sacrificing results and learning outcomes.
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