Microlearning is a hot buzzword these days; however, the concept has been around for quite a while. I first came across it in the early 2000s while developing content for a technical certification program. We called it something different at that time, but the concepts remain the same. Since then, the term used to describe a small modular piece of learning content is dependent on what is trendy at the time. My personal favorite came out of a recent discussion with a client about their vision of "bite-sized, snackable" content. After going back and forth some we came up with the term, "snackable learning nuggets."
The basis of microlearning is to provide the learner with content that encapsulates a quickly and easily consumable single concept. Why is that important? What kind of benefits does that entail for the person consuming the content? What types of scenarios does this strategy fit?
One benefit to bite-sized content is that it makes content consumption less daunting. For certain audiences (e.g., K-12 and those just starting college), getting them interested in learning is the first step. So the challenge is to make the content as appealing and tasty as possible to get them hooked; like a potato chip. Once a learner bites into the first piece of content, they receive instant gratification by being introduced to a concept with detail that provides context and insight into the idea, while being given some validation that they have gained understanding. This quick process makes moving onto the next concept more inviting. I mean, who eats only one chip?
Another concept is that of "just in time" learning. In this scenario, the learner has an immediate need for instruction on a particular task. This often comes up in corporate situations or on-the-job training. One example could be instructions for proprietary equipment and internal processes that need to be taken prior to starting, or reference material on a particular subject that can be referenced as needed. The bowl of fruit is available and anyone can help themselves to an apple or banana as the need arises. There's no requirement to eat all of the fruit, just one will do.
Often, there is also the scenario of the learner that simply doesn't have large amounts of open time in their schedule. This is true of the busy professional looking to move up in their field or train for a new career while balancing the rest of their life responsibilities. No time to prep, cook, and eat a sit down meal. Just grab a granola bar and go. This learner needs content that can be consumed during the train ride to work, the small gap between dropping off one kid at soccer practice and picking the other kid up from dance class, or during the host of other things happening in their modern busy life. The content needs to be self contained so that starting and stopping works. Fast and portable is the key, both in terms of time and across devices.
These are just some examples of how "snackable" content can satisfy the needs of users for specific scenarios. It's certainly not a complete list. Where things start to get even more interesting is when each individual piece of content is associated to other pieces based on relationship metadata. The types of relationships depend on the needs of users and the business drivers behind the content.
A common structure calls for a linear strategy that is prescribed to the user at the outset; however, we are starting to see clients take a more modular approach to content relationships to provide fluidity and easy customization. They are creating strategies that allow instructors and learners to organize content in ways that make sense for their particular situation, thereby creating personalized learning paths. Modularity coupled with institutional and learning analytics models can be used to recommend content for each user based on their individual needs. There are many means in which to do this. Traditionally this was a manual process where an instructor would review the outcomes from students to further tailor coursework. With the advent of tools that make machine learning techniques viable to implement at scale we are now able to achieve very adaptable personalized learning paths.
The flexibility of micro-learning, or "snackable learning nuggets," opens up some pretty amazing possibilities in terms of getting the right content in front of a user efficiently. Possibilities that just don't exist with monolithic content. More learning scenarios are able to be addressed, resulting in learners that are increasingly engaged with content and can't wait to consume that next potato chip.