What is Microlearning?

What is Microlearning

The average student attention span can be, well, pretty low. How can we keep them engaged before, during and after class?

What is ‘microlearning’?

Microlearning is a way of delivering lessons in small learning units, typically allowing students to control their own learning, at their own pace.

Why is microlearning important?

Studies have shown that we learn more deeply when we are focused on a subject for a short duration of time. This is especially true when we go online because the Internet is an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning. Even as the Internet grants us easy access to vast amounts of information, it is turning us into shallower thinkers, literally changing the structure of our brain.1 When we ingest too much information into our working memory, we can experience cognitive overload. Our retention increases when we are given information in short bursts, and are allowed to process it effectively. Reading or listening (passive learning) in short spans of time can be useful, although it is especially effective when we also interact with our subject. This is known as “active engagement” and is one of the many benefits of microlearning. Promoting active engagement can help increase understanding, and help students develop a personal connection to their learning, so that they “own” and are responsible for their own learning.

What does microlearning look like?

The basic characteristics of microlearning are that they are:
Short: They last about 5-10 minutes (or less).
Focused: They have a specific focus on one single topic.
Interactive: They’re combined with activities to promote active learning.
Standalone: They’re available to use by themselves or with other microlearning, teaching, or classroom activities. Blending Education goes further to add responsiveness, portability, trackability, and assessment to what we think microlearning should be.

How can we use Microlearning effectively?
There are many ways we can use microlearning, either before, during or after class. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Use it as homework.
  • Use it as a personalized learning path: provide a selection of microlearning topics and let students choose 2 or 3.
  • Use it before class, to gauge how prepared students are.
  • Use it in class if devices are available.
  • Use it collaboratively, either online or in class as group work.
  • Use as a “wake up tool” to let students explore something on their own (and give yourself a break; you can even watch their scores coming in to the LMS!)

What do you think about microlearning? Share your thoughts below.

1 Carr, Nicholas The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains Wired Magazine, 24th May 2010.

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