George Rears is vice president of technology solutions at Association Headquarters in Mount Laurel, New Jersey.
Microlearning shouldn’t be complex or time-consuming. A few tips can help keep lessons short and tasks simple.
When you hear a buzzword like “microlearning,” you might not realize that many of your members already have plenty of experience with this education format. You do too: You engaged in microlearning when you were drilled on multiplication tables as a child, or if you ever got home late from work and searched online for “easy weeknight meals.”
The concept of microlearning is simple: It’s an activity that provides a focused, objective-based lesson and takes just a few minutes to complete. The format, which often uses rich media tools like video, infographics, or mobile apps, is highly effective for how-to guides or simple task-based problem solving.
What if your association could provide the kind of quick, task-based training that other websites, blogs, and videos do for tasks as mundane as cooking chicken or fixing a car? Imagine quick member-support videos that explain how to reset a password, renew membership, or register for a meeting. (Think of the staff time you’d save!) Even better: What if you provided short videos that aligned with your association’s mission, providing additional membership value? One example: The Association of Fundraising Professionals uses its members in conversation to teach on a variety of fundraising topics and subjects.
Two dominant forces are driving interest in microlearning. The first is the concept of spaced learning, developed by psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus. This theory “suggests that ‘learning is better when the same amount of study is spread out over periods of time than it is when it occurs closer together or at the same time,’ writes Victoria Zambito for the magazine Training Industry.
In her metaphor, “microlearning is the slow-and-steady tortoise to the cognitive-overloaded hare.” Essentially, our brains reach a point where they stop processing new information, and so the most effective way to learn is in short, quick bursts.
The needs of the modern workplace are the second force driving the microlearning trend. Today’s employees want to access content on any device from anywhere, and they want to do so during small segments of free time that punctuate their days. They want to learn on the train, during lunch, or before a meeting.
When you combine the effectiveness of spaced learning with the unique needs of today’s workforce, you find a stage that is set for microlearning’s proliferation.
If you’re ready to start creating microlearning lessons, the first thing you need is an objective. Begin by finding out what your members need. What questions are they asking? Do they need to get up to speed on the latest professional skill set? How about soft skills, like organizational or time management principles?
Next, decide what format you’re going to use. Whether you go with an infographic, video, or slideshow, ensure good production quality. Regardless of the content, people will naturally pay more attention to a lesson that has higher-quality design and production.
Finding ways to incorporate a feeling of accomplishment will help make your microlearning lessons stick.
Finally, find a fun way to prove that the learning took place. As Judy Willis writes for Educational Leadership, published by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, “students can build on their neurochemical memories of positive feelings if they have opportunities to recognize and savor their successes.”
Basically, we learn more from joyful, fulfilling experiences. That’s why so many microlearning platforms, like the successful language-learning app Duolingo, use gamification. Finding ways to incorporate a feeling of accomplishment will help make your microlearning lessons stick.
One great example comes from Kirstie Greany, senior learning consultant at Elucidat. In a blog post, she describes five of her favorite learning formats, but the one I like most is the digital one-pager infographic. “This example of a multi-language, micro pre-boarding resource gives new employees essential information without overwhelming them ahead of their first day,” she writes.
This infographic succinctly lays out what a learner has to do upon signing up or registering. It’s essentially a to-do list with four clear objectives laid out. There’s no superfluous text or images getting in the way, and it brings a fun, lighthearted element at the end, asking the new employee: “Last but not least, how do you take your tea?”
Ultimately, the knowledge nuggets provided in microlearning modules add up to skills-based learning, and they help professionals become more efficient employees and more effective leaders.