5 Recommendations To Maximize the Learning Experience, and what Virtual Learning Experts® Need to Know.
This is part of an ongoing column by Virtual Learning Expert® Jennifer Finan. She’s exploring trends that impact virtual classroom trainers and designers with the goal of improving learner engagement in the hybrid virtual classroom.
As a fellow Virtual Training Professional, I bet you’ve been asked to shorten your sessions a few times! We all have. People are busy. Organizations want their people to learn, but don’t want to take them away from their work while they do it. Could microlearning be the answer to more efficient, but highly effective, virtual learning?
What is microlearning and why is it (still) trending?
While there doesn’t seem to be a commonly agreed definition of microlearning, there is a consensus that it means short pieces of content. AMA Research defines microlearning as, platform solutions that "provide employees with short bursts of focused educational content that fit into a daily workflow and are accessible on any device." Meanwhile, Elearning Industry describe it as “the more engaging, less time-consuming, and cheaper-to-produce sibling of regular eLearning.”
Microlearning material in the blended work environment could be video, text, infographics, job aids, podcasts, or in fact any medium as long as it’s short and to the point. How short is debatable with some professionals stating 2-5 minutes is micro and others saying it’s up to 13 minutes. The time is actually not what’s important, rather that it’s short and focused on exactly what the learner needs to know – and nothing more.
Microlearning is not new – think about the flashcards you used at school to learn spelling or math. Dictionary.com launched the Word of the Day in 1999 and Duolingo, the popular language learning app, has been around for over ten years.
Microlearning has been one of the top 10 trends for the last five years of the L&D Global Sentiment Survey. In 2022, it’s ranked seventh place, ahead of learning experience platforms (at eight) and Mobile delivery (at 11). As the report emphasizes, these results vary significantly depending on country and industry. In fact, if you’re reading this in New Zealand, you’re probably very familiar with the microlearning trend already. New Zealand ranked microlearning in the top three for each of the past years apart from in 2021.
But why is it one of the key trends in our industry? Could it be that attention spans are decreasing to goldfish proportions (or is that a myth? – listen to our experts tackle learning and development myths in the recent Modern Learning on The Air podcast (for more about that). Think of all the different options there are now for reading book summaries (eg. Blinkist, Get Abstract, or Headway) or the popularity of Twitter (where only 1% of Tweets actually hit the 280 character limit) or 60 second Instagram Reels. Maybe less really is more?
What impact does microlearning have on learner engagement and virtual learning design?
Great microlearning is, “less about the time and more about breaking a performance goal into focused steps that are as short as possible, but as extensive as necessary,” said Alex Khurgin, director of learning and creative at Grovo. On this basis, microlearning can have a huge impact on learner engagement.
Microlearning usually involves chunking information down into bite-sized pieces and most of us will agree that makes it much easier to absorb. We know that if we want to intellectually engage our learners, we need content that is relevant to them. Keeping our training focused helps us ensure it’s relevant to our learners’ intent. When we build our training programs, we want to include opportunities for people with different levels of experience to access content that’s meaningful to them. Microlearning helps us do that. We could create chunks of content suitable for beginners and different chunks tailored to those more experienced.
Microlearning is also often considered to be more self-directed by nature since it often involves several pieces of informal learning. Learners are engaged emotionally when they enjoy learning and giving them the choice to watch a video, view an infographic or listen to a podcast will help them enjoy it and take responsibility for their learning. Because microlearning is brief, learners are going to feel that positive sense of accomplishment sooner which may even inspire them to access further training.
So microlearning is likely to be a key component of many learning campaigns, but should it be the only component? Probably not. Consider Dictionary.com’s Word of The Day. This site allows people to learn a new word each day, but without the understanding of how to use the word in a sentence, it’s almost useless. Learners need context. Learners also need practice. Duolingo encourages practice through spaced repetition, but without dedicated practice with speakers of that language, are learners really going to become fluent? Including microlearning in a blended program, including opportunities to provide context and practical application seems to be a more effective solution.
5 Recommendations for designing virtual training with microlearning
- Make each piece of content focused. Even though the microlearning will be used to deliver formal training, it needs to work as a standalone piece that can be used AFTER the training is complete. Decide on a clear, specific learning objective and make sure the microlearning meets that and nothing more. Keep the content completely focused on that one outcome and don’t add anything that could distract from it.
- Make content accessible in the moment of need®. If learners can’t access the content AFTER the formal learning is complete, it’s not a useful tool. Analyze your audience know when they will need to access the microlearning. Ensure its easily accessible when and where they need it. If you don’t, the investment will be wasted.
- Provide more information for those who do want it. There will always be some people who want more context, background, the theory or access to examples. Don’t be scared to include links to additional information for the people who do want more.
- Choose the medium wisely. Consider your learners and how they will be accessing this microlearning. Regardless of what you want to provide, what will suit them best? An easy way for InSync to communicate platform changes is by video, but our Producers won’t watch a video when they’re in a session – they want screenshots. Again, go back to the Moment of Need.
- Remember – each microlearning asset is part of a larger blended learning campaign. Most microlearning is not going to be standalone content, but rather part of a learning campaign incorporating virtual classrooms and other self-directed work. Ensure the microlearning content doesn’t just sit somewhere completely separate from the rest of the blend, but that it’s incorporated, discussed and used throughout the entire learning experience.
What do Virtual Learning Experts® need to know about using Microlearning in the Virtual Classroom?
Teaching a BIG class with SMALL content can be challenging- we’ve got a bunch of standalone pieces that need to provide a coherent and meaningful narrative. Everyone on the virtual delivery team has a role to play.
- Virtual classroom designers must exercise even more restraint than usual when using the microlearning approach! Often designers are tempted to enhance training content with scenarios, additional information and theoretical concepts that are not always strictly ‘need-to-know.’ I encourage these creative approaches when they improve the experience, but designers need to know exactly what to focus on and ensure that the learning objective is met without including any unnecessary information. Designers utilizing microlearning may also need to learn how to create different materials and with graphic designers or video creators to develop content – so it’s even more critical that the objective of the asset is focused.
- Virtual classroom facilitators need to know all the content in the learning campaign – not just the live classes. They need to know when, where, and why learners can access everything, understanding exactly how all the microlearning content fits in the blend. They may also need to understand who needs what if there are different chunks specifically for different roles or different groups of learners.
- Virtual classroom producers need to know where everything is, and be able to assist learners with how to access the content. Producers may also get involved in bringing the microlearning into the virtual classroom and helping learners understand what content is relevant to them.
- Virtual Learning Coaches® need to know what assets are being used, and why. This is so they can be successful working with everyone in the team to ensure they understand what microlearning is (and isn’t) and to make sure that it’s being used appropriately: not just because it’s a trend, but because it is effectively engaging their learners.
There’s more to learn!
Are you wondering how to design entire live online learning events? We can help with our Trends in Virtual Training - Expert Seminar Series workshop - Creating Virtual Learning Experiences Using Microlearning. And there are 11 more trending workshop topics for you to explore!
Purchase 5 workshops and the 6th workshop is free. Click on the image below to learn more.