Microlearning is a learning method in which content is delivered in small parts, each with one specific goal, and takes very little time to complete.
The advantage of microlearning is that it is memorable. One unit of microcontent should focus on solving one aspect and be used later as a reminder. For example, it’s unlikely that after two days of compliance training in January, an employee will be able to remember something in July. But if you send him monthly small portions of information that focus on a particular aspect and serve as a reminder, the likelihood of remembering such information is much higher.
Microlearning in the Digital Age
The widespread use of microlearning in the design and implementation of programs was the natural response of the education industry to massive changes in people’s behavior and ways of perceiving and processing information.
Humanity is moving globally from a culture of deep attention, when we can concentrate on one object or information stream for a long period without external stimulation, to a culture of hyper-attention, which is characterized by shifting focus between multiple information streams, a preference for high levels of stimulated attention and a low tolerance for boredom. Now, in order to keep our attention on a particular object, we need additional stimuli and factors that will prevent us from shifting our attention to other objects.
With hyper-attention, the following features of information perception are exacerbated due to the enormous amounts of information processed by the modern worker1.
The modern person:
- Does not read everything to the end. A person spends an average of 20 seconds to view a single digital document and reads only 25% of the text;
- Quickly forgets what he has learned. A person forgets 80% of what he or she has learned within 30 days of the end of the learning process and 90% within a year.
The Forgetting Curve
The forgetting curve was obtained as a result of an experimental study of memory by German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus in 1885. He studied “pure” memory – remembering, which is not affected by thought processes. During the experiments, the scientist offered a method of memorizing meaningless syllables consisting of two consonants and a vowel between them, causing no semantic associations.
The results of the experiment established rapid forgetting after the first error-free repetition of a series of such syllables. Up to 60% of all information was already forgotten during the first hour, and after 10 hours, only 35% of the learned information remained in the person’s memory. It is noteworthy, but further, the process of forgetting slows down because, after six days, about 20% of the total number of initially learned syllables remained in memory, and the same amount remained in memory after a month.
Struggling with the Forgetting Curve
Several conclusions can be drawn from H. Ebbinghaus’ experiments:
- for effective memorization, multiple, spaced repetitions of learned material are necessary (then the memorization rate can be increased up to 90% after one month);
- meaningful memorization is 9 times faster than mechanical memorization;
- Short information “packed” in logically complete forms is better remembered;
- Engaging students in activities increases the effectiveness of memorization.
These ideas form the basis for the key technologies of modern education. In particular, microlearning, immersive learning, and interactive teaching methods.
The Principles of Effective Microlearning
1. Content units are self-sufficient and autonomous but part of something bigger. The focus is on a single, clearly defined learning outcome.
2. Created for a specific target audience.
3. The duration of each piece of content is determined by the expected learning outcome and the format of the content. There is no clear data in the research on the ideal maximum duration of microcontent. It should last as long as needed to solve a particular problem. A 5-minute training that does not solve a learning problem wastes 5 minutes of the learner’s time.
4. Micro-units are more “demonstrating” and “doing” than “talking”: videos, animations, games, scripts, infographics, and memos should be used.
5. As content shrinks, the role of context grows. You need to use as many stories, associations, and metaphors as possible that hold attention and are memorable.
6. Immediate practical applicability: you need to focus on exactly how to apply what you have learned immediately after learning.
7. Holistic approach: in the end, micro-units of content should add up to a coherent exhaustive picture and give a complete view of the topic.
8. Access to training materials is provided from any device: mobile and stationary, at any convenient time.