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Feb 08, 2017 Katelind Hays

Memory and Microlearning: Supporting Modern Learners

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BYTE Session Recap

Modern Blended Learning Microlearning

When planning and designing blended learning programs, we have many models, approaches, and strategies available to us. Figuring out which one to use can cause quite a conundrum: how do we support the needs of modern learners when they all seem to need different things? 

Oded Ilan’s recent InSync BYTE series event, Overcoming the Forgetting Curve, made clear a unique and powerful point: regardless of their generation or learning preference, training participants all struggle with remembering. By extension, the science behind modern memory drives the need for microlearning.

We’ll explore the science behind memory, how the data driven world has influenced our learners, and why Oded believes microlearning addresses both.

The Science of Memory

Think about the last test you took. Surely you studied the content to the point of memorization in hopes of passing the exam. Do you remember that information now? Likely not.

Oded pointed out that this is a totally natural phenomenon, and even has a name. Identified by German Psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus, the Forgetting Curve identified that we forget 50% of what we learn within one hour of learning it. Furthermore, we forget 70% of that information within a week if we don’t put it into practice. The bottom line? If we don’t purposefully work to remember something by using that new content, our brain forgets it.

This scientific explanation of our learners’ forgetfulness also makes another important point: memory is a skill. We must practice or use information in order to remember it. Oded argued that we have to develop our memory skills based on our needs. Memorizing information to pass a test or apply it during a training assessment meets a need. As Oded said, “we advanced, practiced, and grew this memory skill for that information in order to achieve success.”

Tech and Data Change Everything

In the last 20 years, technology created an incredible influx of data. WhatsApp users send and receive 30 billion messages a day. Millions of Google searches happen every minute. Technology made information easily accessible, and provided us with solutions for managing the data. Younger generations grew up in this environment and navigate it easily. Older generations adapt to it in order to communicate, fit in, and remain competitive.

This technology revolution, Oded explained, created an entirely new way of remembering. We can’t possibly remember everything we read or see. We started to use technology to assist us. Now, rather than retaining, we’re offloading.

Offloading, Oded explained, happens when we take our own data, like pictures, passwords, and job processes, and store it in the cloud so we can reference it when we need it. In the past, we used our memories. Now, we use the internet.

Rather than relying solely on our memories, we’re relying on tools. We know the tools will support us in our moments of need. We comfortably use the GPS instead of the maps we relied on 10 years ago. We refer to search engine sites to answer common and complicated questions. Using these tools shows our skill adaptability. Oded shared that offloading memory, knowing how and where to search for offloaded information, and sifting through it to get to what we need, are modern skills appropriate and necessary to our current world.

Microlearning: Encouraging a Paradigm Shift

Training must support the way people work and live now. Understanding the new reality of remembering helps manage the associated training paradigm shift.

Microlearning, which uses short learning modules that take 3-5 minutes to complete, provides the foundation of this paradigm shift. Successful modern blended training programs include content that is:

  • Rich
  • Contextual
  • Personalized

Short, explainer videos, like the ones found on YouTube, are great examples of rich content. If we design the videos to take less than 5 minutes to watch, and they reinforce information presented in a formal training event, they fall into the microlearning category.

The best learning programs provide context both to the information shared, and to the resources created for later use. For example, introduce process infographics during formal training, teach the learners how and where to find them later, and why the information matters to the rest of what they’re learning in the session.  This contextualized learning approach positions the resource within the context of the whole training program, and making it readily available contextualizes it within learners’ day-to-day roles.

People connect to the content when they know it’s relevant to their experiences and their needs. Create microlearning based on your learners’ behavior and the challenges they experience on the job. Embed the resources into the systems they use daily, and learners will feel like the resources are personalized to address their unique challenges.

Don’t expect your learners to retain all the information you shared during the formal training sessions. Purposefully create tools that match the way they navigate the world now, and use them to drive perpetual learning and on-demand recall. Microlearning achieves both and supports our modern learners’ memory.

Related Resource:

Article: Scientists Say Google is Changing Our Brains
Cited by Oded, this article dives deep into how the internet has altered how we think and how we use our brains. It’s a great foundational or reinforcement resource.

Blog post: Hacking the Forgetting Curve 
Prior to his BYTE session, Oded shared solid background information about the Forgetting Curve and why we need to consider its impact on our training participants.

InSync BYTE Recording: Overcoming the Forgetting Curve: New Content Creation Paradigms
Looking for more information about short and long term memory, the influence of technology on our brains, and the key elements of modern onboarding training? Check out the entire recording of Oded Ilan’s BYTE session.


Published by Katelind Hays February 8, 2017
Katelind Hays