Though the idea has been around for 10 years or so, in recent months I have begun to hear more faint rumblings across my personal learning network (PLN) about the concepts of Micro-Learning and Integrated Micro-Learning. I am intrigued by the idea and decided to explore it further for possible applications in our business and for our clients.
As I dug in, I began to see some exciting ways that micro-learning could be applied to enhance retention in corporate training. I’ll share those ideas with you in a moment, but first - a little bit about the concept of micro-learning.
What Is Micro-Learning?
Micro-learning is really just what it sounds like – learning, or reinforcing learning, in very small chunks. Think of learning your multiplication tables when you were a kid. What if over the next several weeks or months after learning the initial concept, you were presented with a multiplication flash card at random times throughout the day. Would that have helped you memorize those basic math facts with less pain and suffering than trying to memorize the whole thing at once? I think most people would say yes as spaced repetition is one of the most important keys to learning retention.
Integrated micro-learning is the idea of integrating these small chunks of learning content into our daily routines. I found one study by Gerhard Gassler, Theo Hug and Christian Glahn, particularly interesting (PDF link to the study). The group used the notion that we all access our PCs and mobile devices throughout the day. If the device is in sleep-mode, we often must re-enter a password to wake up the device (just about every device I know of has the option of this feature, whether we use it or not).
The group in this study used this moment of accessing a device to create a small window for learning. In the study, users were presented with an electronic flash card with a foreign word or phrase to be translated. The user needed to enter an answer to proceed to regular use of the device, though there was a built in option to skip if the user so desired. Through the study they found that 75% users voluntarily answered the questions when they were presented rather skip them which was almost the opposite of the voluntary completion rate of 25% for eLearning modules.
In this way the group estimated that the average user would be exposed to over 3000 pieces of learning content over the course of a year.
How is Micro-Learning Different?
While micro-learning is not a total solution, I think it could be used effectively as part of a blended learning strategy. With almost any topic I can think of that you might want to train folks on in a corporate setting, there is a certain amount of fundamental knowledge. Once that fundamental knowledge is integrated into long term memory, learners have a much easier time understanding and utilizing additional information about the topic.
Micro-learning could be used to help learners integrate and retain that fundamental knowledge without the need for refresher training and other more time consuming interventions. I don’t thing that micro-learning is the best way to present new ideas or information, but as a reinforcement tool it could be very valuable.
How could micro-learning be applied?
My colleagues and I brainstormed some potential applications for micro-learning in a corporate setting. Here are just a few of them:
1. New Employee Onboarding
Every corporation I have ever worked with has a list of corporate and industry acronyms a mile long. Until new hires have a good familiarity with these acronyms there can many opportunities for misunderstanding and miscommunication. If we could push these out in an integrated micro-learning format over the first few weeks at a new company, new employees may be able to get up to speed more quickly.
2. Certification Prep
Integrated micro-learning could making cramming for certification exams obsolete. The advantage of spaced repletion could also ensure the knowledge is firmly placed in long term memory.
3. Process Reinforcement
We are often brought in to help clients define and train business process in their organizations. It is often difficult for users to embrace new processes when they are exposed to the process once in a classroom and then expected to follow it. When business processes are system based, micro-learning could be used to prompt the user and reinforce process steps.
What are your ideas for micro-learning? We would love to hear from you.