Going Micro: 4 Easy Ways You Can Use Microlearning

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Microlearning has become the gold standard for satisfying our need to have everything readily available whenever and wherever we need it. Micro-content is a perfect mix of skill development and timeliness.

For that reason, the trend is to "go micro." However, achieving the goal of shifting to micro is more than just delivering chunked or bite-sized learning content on demand.

There are many different use cases and flavors of microlearning, creating a lack of clarity. It also makes it a monumental challenge for instructional designers to identify the following:

  • Best design practices
  • Delivery approaches
  • Implementation methods

It also means everyone can claim their solution is microlearning, even though the reality is they are all doing something vastly different.

In this edition of Insider Training, we welcome Carla Torgeson, MEd, MBA, the Head of Learning Experience Strategy at TorranceLearning. She will help you understand when to employ microlearning by sharing four primary use cases.

Carls is also the author of The Microlearning Guide to Microlearning, co-author of Designing Microlearning, and has developed MILE, the MicroLearning Design Model©.

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Speaker: Carla Torgerson, MEd, MBA, author, and Head of Learning Experience Strategy at TorranceLearning.

4 Uses of Microlearning

Now let's look at four uses of microlearning. There's four key ways when people use microlearning.

What's really interesting to me is that when people say they're going micro, they're using one of these four, but they usually use the same word microlearning, for all of them.

So, it gets really confusing and muddy for us as an industry because we all say micro, but we're doing something different. So, for me, I like to think of microlearning in these four key ways.

Now I'm going to share their kind of official names, plus some common names for them as well.

Microlearning Use #1: Preparation

First, we have Preparation. This is any time you're using microlearning to set people up for some longer form learning. Whether that is instructor-led training in a classroom or virtual instructor-led training or even an e-learning module.

We're using microlearning to prepare them for that longer form training.

Microlearning Use #2: Follow-Up

Then of course you can also use microlearning and Follow-Up to long-form training.

So, if you've got a class or again, an e-learning, you can have follow-up material that you send after the class, and that can also be done as microlearning.

Microlearning Use #3: Standalone

Now, the next one is called Standalone. This is what I often think of when I think of microlearning personally. This is when you have pieces that stand by themselves and they don't need any other classes.

When you're on LinkedIn or on the internet, and you look up a little something that you need help with right now. You watch a three or five-minute video and then you're done.

That is standalone microlearning. Often again, the things you might see on linkedin or often on your company intranet or the internet in many forms.

Microlearning Use #4: Support

Then we have Support. That's when you're using microlearning to help people on the job. That's when they're doing their job task, and you're supporting them using micro-content.

Common Names for Microlearning Uses

Now, all these also have common names, and so I'm going to share those with you. You'll probably be familiar with many of them.

Preparation = Pre-Work

So, this first one, preparation, is pre-work.

We've been doing pre-work for years. So, this, in many ways, isn't all that new, but to me, the big thing is that we're thinking shorter.

We often have trouble getting people to do their pre-work. What we're encouraging here is if you take a micro focus that you'll create something that feels more attainable.

People are like, “Oh yeah, I can do that. It's just 10 minutes” or “I can just do these couple five-minute pieces before I go to class.” That's pre-work.

Follow-Up = Boost Learning

Then there's also Follow-Up. A lot of people call this boost learning.

So, boost learning is anytime you're sending little reinforcement messages to the learner after a longer form instruction.

These can be done by email message, text messages, even on teams and slack, and places like that. Boosting is really about the reinforcement.

So, these pieces are usually very, very short. They're very quick because all you're looking to do is reinforce what the learner has learned.

In fact, Art Cohen's research shows that a piece of microlearning of this form only needs to be 30 to 60 seconds to be effective.

Standalone = Short-Form Learning

Now standalone, I never had a really great name for it, and so I call it short-form learning. This is where you're thinking about taking a single piece of content.

A single learning objective and creating just one piece of standalone content that can meet your learning objective.

So, that short-form learning is usually sitting on your intranet or the internet. Then people are capturing, accessing it that way, or maybe you put it on your LMS (learning management system) if you're making it required, that sort of thing.

Support = Performance Support

The last one is performance support. Performance support is talked about often. A lot of people are getting very excited about that space right now because the idea of supporting people on the job is so powerful.

Performance support is often things like job aids and checklists and things like that. But sometimes we also have some little bit of just-in-time training.

It's a little piece of…nugget of content that would help them learn a task so they can then be on their way, doing their job right away.

Final Thoughts

Those are your four use cases of microlearning. It's really important that we're thinking about these things as their unique characteristics because every time people say they're going micro, they're usually talking about one of these four things.

To clarify with those people, “which one are you doing” can really help you to have better conversations and a better understanding of what they're doing.

If you weren't working on it, it also gives you a better chance to think about what you're really trying to achieve. How long would really be the optimal length? Even what format you might use to provide this microlearning.

Carla Torgerson, MEd, MBA

Carla Torgerson, MEd, MBA

With nearly 20 years of experience as an instructional designer and instructional strategist Carla Torgerson, MEd, MBA, has always been interested in the latest learning trends. She has authored numerous blogs and articles on various topics, including e-learning, mobile learning, and microlearning. She also developed MILE, the MIcroLEarning Design Model©, and is the author of The Microlearning Guide to Microlearning and the co-author of Designing Microlearning with Sue Iannone. Currently, she is the Head of Learning Experience Strategy at TorranceLearning.
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