Converting Traditional eLearning Content to Microlearning
Like most industries, eLearning has its own buzzwords. One that you've probably been hearing a lot is "microlearning". But, what do you know about it? In this article, I will explain what microlearning is, its characteristics and the advantages it offers. Then, we'll look at how traditional eLearning can be converted to microlearning.
1. What is Microlearning?
Microlearning is not a new concept. It's been around for decades as a part of blended learning packages and was referred to as "bite-sized knowledge", "mini-learning" or "micro-courses".
I like to define microlearning as:
A teaching strategy that is used to timely and efficiently close gaps in knowledge and skills.
2. Characteristics of Microlearning
- Concise - the learning is delivered in short segments usually lasting only a few minutes (a general rule of thumb is no more than 20 minutes).
- Focused on a specific concept - because of the time limitations, the material must be pinpointed.
- Varied in delivery styles - content is delivered as animations, movies, activities, games or any other method that suits the audience's learning style.
Some great examples of microlearning are found on the internet. Three of my favourites are:
- Why are Sloths so Slow? created by Kenny Coogan - a simple and entertaining educational animation
- Kurt Vonnegut on the Shapes of Stories created by Emilie Soffe - a short video of a Vonnegut lecture
- Who Pooped at the Farm? by the Minnesota Zoo - a fun little course that includes some gaming features and a short video at the end
3. Advantages of Microlearning
Microlearning can be delivered to desktop computers, laptops, tablets and Smart phones. It's versatile and takes the learning to the learner wherever he or she has online access. The advantages of using microlearning are:
- Learner autonomy - allowing learners to do their learning when and where they want to provides a sense of ownership of the learning process. This helps with development of learner interest and motivation.
- Fast results - because of its focus and the size of the lessons, microlearning is an excellent way to help learners quickly close small knowledge and skill gaps.
- Just-in-time learning - microlearning lets learners access the learning when they need it most, when and where they need it.
- Adaptable to blended learning - using microlearning as a preparation for longer, blended learning session is a great way keep extend the learning process beyond the classroom.
- Lower production costs - the cost of producing microlearning modules should be much lower than the cost of full-length eLearning, blended or traditional classroom materials.
- Fits into busy schedules - because it's quick and portable, microlearning sessions can be fit into almost anyone's calendar.
- Updating content is easier - smaller bits of content means there is less to update when the time comes. You don't need to update a whole course - just the affected microlearning modules.
- Multi-tasking - microlearning allows learners to complete learning while they are working.
However, microlearning is not the golden key to training program design success. Disadvantages to microlearning include:
- May not help learners reach long-term learning goals - research has not yet shown if microlearning is effective in this regard.
- Fragmented learning - there is a risk that microlearning modules are disconnected and do not provide the learner with a continuous experience.
4. Essential Microlearning Tools
Before you start converting your eLearning content into microlearning, you may need to "tool up" to make microlearning work for you and your learning audience. Consider using:
- Content keywords - use links embedded in content keywords to allow learners to research and expand on their learning rather than presenting large amounts of additional text.
- Video - video works well on most mobile devices and is an extremely effective way of delivering short, concentrated bit of information.
- Social media - mobile learners typically use one or more types of social media. Using social media accounts takes your learning to where your audience already goes for information.
5. Some Uses for Microlearning
While microlearning may not be the right delivery method for some types of learning, it can be quite useful in delivering learning on:
- Languages, simple procedures or other topics that require repetition and memorization as part of the learning.
- Software applications - step-by-step lists and repetition are perfect for microlearning.
- Best practices - these can be taught in small snippets of information.
- Business and procedures - taught in small chunks or you can use microlearning to create mini introductions that prepare learners for larger eLearning courses or a blended delivery session.
Converting Traditional eLearning to Microlearning
Before you get started on converting existing content to microlearning modules, you need to ask yourself, "Is this content current?" "Is the content still relevant?". Spending time and money converting dated content is a waste. Your budget and energies would be better spent updating and revising the content before converting it to microlearning - a strategy that works especially well for compliance training.
Making the change from traditional eLearning or blended learning formats to microlearning is not as easy as it sounds. You'll need to look at breaking your content into small, "bite-sized" pieces where each key point is the focus of an individual microlearning module. This differs from the way traditional formats are written to link a series of concepts in one lesson.
Things to consider when converting learning content to microlearning are:
- Brevity - everything needs to be short and every word and every second needs to count. Trimming things down means text revisions and rewrites. Existing videos may need to be edited for length, reshot or dropped altogether.
- Gamification - this is a great way to make a single point in learning. Create a game that involves a decision tree, a quick demonstration followed by a short quiz, etc. Add rewards such as badges or certificates for successful completion. Your games are dependent on you, your imagination and your development software's capabilities.
- Podcasts - these little snippets of information are easy and inexpensive to produce and they work well for mobile learning audiences. Some excellent examples of eLearning podcasts can be found on the iSpring Demos Suite site. Podcasts can be targeted to your specific audience and be delivered anywhere there is internet access. Check out 7 Tips to Create Podcasts for eLearning for some great advice on how to use this medium.
- Blogs - another way to share information in a concise format. Blogs don't have to be long and can even be delivered on platforms such as Twitter. They are such a big part of how the online world communicates, so why not use them to get your eLearning messages across.
- Quizzes - Use a short quiz to introduce your topic and launch into the material. When it's done playing, as 3 or 4 good questions to re-enforce the learning content. Your job is done!
And that's microlearning in a nutshell. I've included several useful links that expand on what I've covered and I urge you to look at them too. I've offered my definition of what microlearning is, described it characteristics, discussed the advantages and disadvantages of microlearning and mentioned some necessary tools for microlearning delivery. I also covered a few areas in which microlearning might be effectively used and some considerations when converting traditional eLearning content into microlearning modules.
Microlearning is not THE solution to all eLearning delivery needs - there is no such thing. Rather, it is a useful tool for eLearning providers in reaching a busy and mobile audience with schedules that require flexibility in when and where they take their training.
So, consider microlearning as one way of getting out your message. And, watch for the next big trend in eLearning delivery, because there is bound to be one!
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Sarah is an Instructional Designer at BaseCorp Learning Systems and is currently completing a PhD in Educational Technology. Her research focuses on implementing competency-based learning systems in all types of organizations. When she doesn't have her nose in a book you can find her at the gym, on the ice, on the ski hill, drinking wine or in a coffee shop … with her nose in a book.