After identifying a training need, learning designers often think of the solution as a “program”—the classroom experience, the online courses, and the Learning Management System to organize it all. While robust programs might be best for certain projects, leaving out the in-between “snack times” could mean missed opportunities to engage and reinforce learning. Microlearning, also called “bite-sized learning,” is great strategy for helping learners solve real problems or keeping the them connected to the topic long-term.
Bite-sized learning was the topic at our February 2015 Collaborative Learning Network session. As always, the versatile professionals from a mix of industries—healthcare, creative agencies, government programs, and education—helped the topic come alive. We spent 90 minutes defining microlearning, looking at examples, and sharing our own experiences with it as learners and designers.
The sessions aren’t meant to be presentations. I ask a series of questions around the topic, and we have a group discussion. We used a cool online tool called Padlet so participants could contribute insights in real time.
Click the links to see all our collective responses:
- How does the learner benefit this design approach?
- How have you learned in “bites”?
- What support would you need from your organization to make bite-sized learning possible?
- What tips can you share for designing bite-sized learning?
Some of the benefits we talked about:
- It’s how we naturally learn.
- Makes sense for modern learning—fragmented experiences with smartphones, Internet, etc.
- Small pieces of information are easy to consume.
- It helps fight cognitive burnout.
- It’s great for short attention spans.
- Microlearning is easily accessible—may not require specific software or platforms.
- It gets right to the point without all the exposition.
- It’s solution-oriented.
The main theme that came from our discussion was that even when we’re learning unintentionally, we tend to naturally learn in bits and pieces instead of large systems. Instructional designers are trained in terms of chunking. Think of bite-sized learning more in terms of morsels. Microlearning is not just the latest trend—it’s smart design that aligns with the vast discoveries brain scientists have been making over the past several years about what Art Kohn refers to as “the ergonomics of the brain” and how we really learn. (Read about his thoughts on the changing attention span of the adult learner here.)
During our session we always work on a case study in small groups. In keeping with the spirit of the topic, I created four mini scenarios. Here’s an example:
A hotel has a two-day training class to teach new employees customer service skills. Most employees are between ages 18 – 30. The current training is expensive, and it hasn’t improved customer relations much at the hotel. The hotel management is desperate to appeal to its younger workforce. They want to reduce turnover and build a culture that employees feel proud of. They want creative ideas for engaging employees with this training.
Could bite-sized learning work well? Why or why not? If so, describe how you’d pitch it to the stakeholders.
Each group reported back their thoughts and strategies. We came up with a lot of different ideas for how microlearning could work in these scenarios:
- Single-concept videos
- Brief (less than 5 minutes) online tutorials
- Job aids
- One-on-one challenges or discussions with colleagues about the topic
Our next Collaborative Learning Network takes place on Wednesday, April 1 (no joke) at 9 a.m. in the Montgomery Park building in Portland. Contact us if you want to add your name to the invitation list. It’s free to attend, but reservations are required. In the meantime, jump into the discussion on our LinkedIn page.