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“What to do with him? He doesn’t want to learn at all!” If this is your complaint is addressed to a first-grader child, it is better not to be nervous and remember yourself at his age. It is unlikely that at age 7 you were so eager to write cursive and add 11 plus 18. Healthy and energetic children like skiing, skating, soccer, biking, climbing trees, hanging upside down on the bar, and “hanging out” with gadgets.

woman in black long sleeve shirt sitting in front of silver macbook

If kids don’t want to learn in high school, it’s sadder when it’s time to think about what they’d like to do as adults. And it’s even sadder when grown-ups who graduated 10-15 years ago haven’t read a single article or book in their specialty, haven’t tried to improve their soft skills and basically learned something new.

If you are one of those adults, here’s the answer to why your kids don’t want to learn. Think about it, what do you look like when you tell your children how important it is to read books, but the child has never seen you with a book in your hand? It’s like in an airplane, where before every flight, you are reminded that in case of emergency, you must first put on an oxygen mask on yourself and only then on the child. In pedagogy, things are exactly the same.

Microlearning – what is it?

The term “microlearning” is of English-speaking origin and is a direct translation of the word microlearning. It is believed that Gerhard Gassler coined the term, and the term “microlearning” was first presented in Integrated Micro-Learning: An outline of the basic method and first results (G. Gassler).

The phenomenon of microlearning itself appeared much earlier. And the translation of the title of the article “Integrated Microlearning: An outline of the basic method and first results” directly indicates that at the time of writing, certain results had already been achieved in this direction.

The term was immediately picked up and began to be used by other researchers in their publications. For example, in the paper Self Directed Learning With Personal Publishing and Microcontent (S. Mosel), which appeared a year later.

What is the essence of microlearning? It is learning a small amount of knowledge or skills for a period of time within 5 minutes. Initially, this format was tested for training in conditions of the limited time given for assimilation of knowledge. First of all, it concerned the acquisition of professional skills and adaptation to a specific workplace.

Later it turned out that the method is quite acceptable for teaching lagging students and schoolchildren, who find it hard to keep their attention on the subject for a long time. Moreover, there is an opinion that the growing popularity of the format is explained by the decreasing ability of children and young people to concentrate.

Data are often cited, citing Microsoft research that since the beginning of the 21st century, the average time to be able to concentrate has fallen from 12 seconds to 8 seconds. However, a journalistic investigation undertaken by the BBC News Service was unable to locate the original source of this data, so the question remains open, and the correctness of the data is debatable.

The BBC columnist did his search for the truth public in “Attention span: Less than a goldfish? And, perhaps unwittingly, he touched on the most important aspect of any training in any field: performance.

If the fabulous goldfish needs only 8 seconds to start the wish-fulfillment mechanism, then maybe she doesn’t need to think any longer. And suppose everyone who takes advantage of the microlearning method learns to achieve results like the goldfish in the fairy tale. In that case, there is no need to worry about decreasing the length of concentrated attention from the word “at all.

There has been an even greater interest in microlearning formats in the last couple of years due to the pandemic and universal “remoteness. It is practically impossible to make a first-grader listen to a teacher for 45 minutes while staring at a computer monitor. And, if in the classroom in traditional education you can practice playful pauses and physical activity breaks, in “distance learning,” it is often problematic because of the difference in living conditions in students’ families.

In addition, Internet and power outages regularly “cut off” some students from the online learning process. So there was a need for asynchronous teaching and preparation of materials that could be accessed at any time when the lights came back on, and the Internet connection resumed.

And it turned out that if you don’t waste time with remarks like “don’t fidget,” “don’t cheat,” “John, stop talking to Steve,” an average school lesson topic at an average rate of speech can be explained in 10-20 minutes, depending on the subject and complexity of the topic.

It is not quite microlearning yet, but it is also very different from the usual standards. In general, microlearning in education is an approach in which the student receives new information in small blocks and then regularly repeats it independently.

A similar picture can be seen in other industries where a remote mode of operation has been attempted. Manuals for the programs used, instructions for the CRM, presentations of the company’s main products – a general acquaintance with such content takes about the same five minutes, during which one can understand a certain block of information or master a simple skill.

Having constant access to this information allows you to “refresh” it at any moment and not overload your memory with too many details on topics that occur once every 2-3 months. This also contributes to the popularity and relevance of this training format. What can be taught in this format? Let’s take a closer look!

Microlearning: examples, types, forms

flat lay photography of woman sitting on brown wooden parquet flooring surrounded by books

In principle, any educational event can be considered microlearning, resulting in new knowledge or a new skill in 3 to 5 minutes. Or a step on the way to a big goal that cannot be reached in 5 minutes.

In the most general classification, we can distinguish two types of microlearning: teaching someone something and learning something by oneself in small blocks. The most common examples given in the context of microlearning are the following:

  • Reading and understanding a paragraph of a book, textbook, letter, or presentation. A well-formatted paragraph is, relatively speaking, “1 bit of learning information” that can be absorbed in one approach.
  • Listening to audio or watching a video for up to 5 minutes. A classic of the genre – is educational content on YouTube, where you can learn to add an extra screen on your smartphone or learn exercises to expand your vocal range in 3 minutes.
  • Using flashcards with a small amount of information (a word, a sentence, a formula). The best way to master such microlearning foreign languages is because, on the card, you can write a new word with a transcription and translation, verb conjugation, and the scheme for constructing a question sentence.
  • Sorting objects in a certain order. For example, when you give a task to a child to put cards with numbers from “0” to “9” in ascending order.
  • Choosing an answer choice from a suggested list. For example, in any knowledge test where you are wrong, you will still know how it was correct after your answer is given the correct one.
  • Memorizing a quatrain – an uncomplicated short poem can be memorized in 3-5 minutes, and in a few approaches, you can learn all the fragments of 4 lines that make up the poem’s full text.

As an example of microlearning, sometimes cite microgames that can be mastered in just a couple of minutes, and the game session lasts about the same amount. We will leave the question of whether the micro-games themselves teach something unless they are initially “geared” to the gamification of the learning process, to the readers because everyone has his or her own attitude.

A variety of forms of microlearning are possible. Let us systematize these forms:

Video – video lesson, video instruction, training video with pauses for repetition of the exercise.

Audio – audiobooks, audio podcasts, audio lessons on topics, including in microlearning of foreign languages.

Image – infographics to visualize the dynamics of statistical data change, a picture of Maslow’s pyramid to get a general idea of levels, a picture with the scheme of human internal organs, etc.

Text – clear, concise, and structured presentation of the material essentially allows you to remember the most important things, which can then be used as a basis for expanding knowledge.

Games – gamification of the learning process is gaining momentum, and studies show that the game format can increase learning effectiveness by 35%.

Mobile apps are often a symbiosis of game, video, audio, and graphical representations of materials and/or your learning outcomes. For example, in the form of a chart with the ratio of correct and incorrect answers.

By the way, in today’s information space, microlearning is often mistakenly associated exclusively with multimedia technology. In reality, as we have found out, microlearning can be considered any educational activity which results in 3-5 minutes of new knowledge or a new skill.

In other words, if you teach a child to tie shoelaces or make dumplings in five minutes, this is also microlearning because, as a result, the child receives a simple but very concrete skill. Specifically, tying the shoelaces on their shoes, putting stuffing into a circle of dough, and gluing it around the edges. Or any other skill you might want to teach him.

Microlearning: alternative or supplement?

person holding pencil and stick note beside table

After all of the above, a legitimate question arises: can microlearning completely replace traditional education formats? Or spelling lessons for first graders? Teaching physics, mathematics, literature, biology? And how can microlearning and higher education interact?

Perhaps we should clarify that the educational system as such solves many problems, not only the introduction of a certain amount of knowledge into the brains of students and pupils. Yes, micro-learning, as a trend in modern education for children, has proven effective for gaining basic knowledge and skills, memorizing simple “one-bit” information, memorizing foreign words, and anything else that does not require deep analysis.

However, would it do any good if children simply memorized physics and chemistry formulas but did not understand their essence? Let’s say Ohm’s law for a circuit section can be explained clearly in 5 minutes. But Ohm’s law for a complete circuit requires more detailed explanations, and that’s not limited to 5 minutes.

Even if “break” into separate micro lessons concepts of electromotive force and potential difference, and make more lessons, “reminders” to calculate resistance, voltage, and current, it will still be necessary then to bring this information together and demonstrate the visual formulas, examples, problems.

What can be said about universities where people study courses like higher mathematics, theoretical mechanics, world history, and others that demand the ability to think systematically and contain a wealth of information? And this process is mutually reinforcing: systemic thinking is necessary for a thorough knowledge of the content in the majority of university courses, and studying these subjects helps develop systemic thinking abilities.

The same is true for vocational education and training. It is already clear that it is unlikely that the profession of engineer-technologist, radiophysicist, or a financier can be obtained in microlearning format. However, working professions also require a thoughtful approach and more practice than 5 minutes in a row.

For instance, even if you tried, you couldn’t explain the design of a lathe or milling machine in five minutes. It will still be necessary to bring all the knowledge together and consider the machine’s design in the interaction of all the parts and mechanisms, even if you break the material up into sections, with the first lesson giving a general diagram of the device and then considering all the blocks separately.

Nevertheless, microlearning of personnel has found the widest application in a variety of industries, including manufacturing. For example, in 5 minutes, it is possible to explain how to grind a particular part on a machine tool, provided the trainee already knows how to work on this machine and has basic safety knowledge.

The training of sales clerks, call center operators, and loaders are also done in a micro-training format, when they first briefly explain “what, where, where, how,” and then instruct, as needed, how to cancel a payment transaction or where to stack oversized cargo.

In offices, staff micro-training is also practiced quite extensively. It’s not just instructions, manuals, and presentations for newcomers. This is also a mailing of industry news when a person in 5 minutes of reading gets an idea of what happened during a week in aircraft construction, passenger transportation, tax legislation, the cryptocurrency market, or interbank trading.

This is also a review of industry conferences, which summarize the main theses of the reports. These are also business English lessons adapted to the specifics of the company’s industry. And even a brief 5-minute meeting with an analysis of a new case from competitors is also a kind of microlearning because in 5 minutes, you get knowledge about new technology, development, and marketing strategy.

So, you have already understood that microlearning cannot be a substitute for basic education and basic professional training. But it has a number of advantages for solving momentary problems, filling gaps in knowledge, quickly assimilating fresh information, and mastering simple skills and operations [Mirapolis, 2021].

The very statistics of the popularity of educational apps, according to which every second download on Android is an educational app, speaks volumes (Statista). Here’s what the overall ranking of user preferences looks like:

Among iPhone users, the popularity of educational apps is in third place, indicating that such content is in serious demand (Statista). Here the preference ranking is as follows:

So let’s take a closer look at the benefits of microlearning.

The benefits of microlearning

three people sitting in front of table laughing together

As you have already understood, the main advantage is the wide applicability of microlearning to a wide range of activities, tasks, and age groups: from pre-schoolers to mature professionals. So, why else is microlearning so popular and still gaining momentum?

The top 8 undoubted pros of microlearning:

  • Usefulness – everything is substantive, no “water,” just the essentials.
  • Applicability – one “bit of information” is easy to remember and start using now.
  • Conciseness – mastering the information takes no more than 5 minutes.
  • Autonomy – only one question, one small topic, and one fragment of a big topic are covered in one approach.
  • Self-sufficiency – well-designed microlearning in one approach provides comprehensive information on the topic or a fragment of the topic when there is no need to look for additional information anymore.
  • Interactivity – the trainee can choose the most convenient time and place for learning.
  • Accessibility – a short video will not take much space on the device, flashcards can easily fit in a bag or pocket, and the audio can be listened to even in a line at the cash register at the store.
  • Variability – the same information can be presented in a video, audio recording of the explanation, diagram, chart, or text material.

Regarding the variability of the forms of presentation of the material, it should be remembered that people over 40 years prefer to read, and young people and teenagers – watch videos. These age peculiarities should be taken into account when preparing materials for microlearning, and then it will be most useful and effective.

The comparison of microlearning and the steam approach to learning is another trend. It is important to remember that different instructional technologies can complement one another rather than exclude one another. Simply put, the STEAM learning approach also applies to the microlearning format.

Let us explain that STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. You can also see the abbreviation STEAM, where the letter A is added to STEM to denote Art.

STEM / STEAM is based on four principles:

  1. Project-based form of organizing the learning process.
  2. The project’s practical orientation is when the project results can potentially be implemented at home, in an educational institution, or at a factory.
  3. Interdisciplinary nature, when the solution of a project task requires knowledge in several subjects at once.
  4. The study of applied disciplines and obtaining practical skills.

As you see, all of them may well be implemented within the framework of microlearning. So, for project participants, you can prepare an introductory lesson, where they get acquainted in 3-5 minutes with the project’s objectives and a list of tasks to be worked on.

For easier skills training, an introductory video can be prepared in advance. For example, how to use a microscope, connect a voltmeter to a circuit, and program a control unit for robotics.

Then you can prepare a list of subjects with the topics that you will need to know to implement the project and references to these topics. In addition, the basic robotics course can be broken down into micro lessons, each of which will deal with a specific aspect. For example, create separate mini-lessons on block diagrams, basic algorithms, data transfer, and other robotics parts.

In other words, a direct comparison of microlearning and the steam approach to learning, based on the principle of what is better and what is worse, does not work here. Rather, they are complementary models of learning in which children rarely, if ever, have the problem that they are bored, uninterested, or don’t want to learn.

The most crucial question is arguably yet open: can the idea of microlearning be used as a comprehensive algorithm from A to Z? For this, there exist microlearning platforms.

A platform for microlearning

man wearing headphones while sitting on chair in front of MacBook

What is microlearning, how do you choose a platform, and how does it work? A microlearning platform is essentially a tool for developing a chain of information and tracking or self-tracking learning outcomes. How do I decide? The activities you must do, the material’s target audience, the interface’s usability, and even a basic human “like” or “dislike” are all important factors.

For our part, we can only advise you to study and, if possible, test a few platforms for microlearning before you start to choose the most suitable. We offer you a selection of the most popular platforms to help you.

Advice from writing helper, popular platforms for microlearning:

  • SwipeLMS – a platform for employee microlearning and onboarding.
  • Skill Cup – a platform for microlearning plus useful business articles and personal success stories
  • EdApp – an English-language platform with a virtual classroom.
  • OpenLearning – English-language platform with a large set of widgets and tools.
  • Kahoot – an English-language platform with gamification capabilities.
  • Quizlet – English-language platform with digital flashcards capabilities.
  • CoreApp – a platform for creating online courses.

The last option suggests a broader positioning as a platform for online learning without the prefix “micro.” However, nothing prevents you from taking lessons of any length, including the minimum duration, tasting all the delights of microlearning, and coming to your super achievements most shortly and effectively possible.

Can these platforms be adapted to teach school-age children? I think that if not everything is possible within STEM and STEAM technologies, then a lot is possible, and so is microlearning on platforms for adult learning. In any case, we need to try and look for the best option for obtaining and presenting knowledge.

Published by HOLR Magazine.