On your quest to create incredible microlearning, you will encounter many dangers. Heed our warnings to reach your goal unscathed.
What we mean when we say ‘microlearning’: learning that comes in bite-sized chunks. But not one course broken arbitrarily into little pieces - microlearning, done properly, consists of self-contained pieces of learning that make concepts easier to understand, remember, and therefore apply.
Danger #1. Using microlearning for everything
Or, Taking the wrong path in the woods
Microlearning is very big in our industry right now. But it’s not a magic, one-size-fits-all solution. It won’t work in every situation - and treating it as if it will could mean that you waste time and money on yet another learning resource that people don’t engage with.
If something doesn’t improve the learning experience and help achieve your organisation’s goals - don’t use it. That’s just good practice. Would microlearning really work for your project? Would it benefit the learner and the learning material, or are you only choosing it because it’s the latest gimmick?
Microlearning is simply an instructional design technique to resolve a need. So what is your need? What problem are you trying to solve? And is this the best solution, or should you choose another path?
Danger #2. Dumbing it down
Or, Catching the plague
One reason people are keen on microlearning is that we’re told people’s attention spans are getting shorter, and we need to therefore produce shorter learning interactions or we’ll lose their attention halfway through.
While this idea of attention spans may or may not actually have any factual basis (and we think not), even if it does, surely we shouldn’t be pandering to this horrific downward spiral by producing shorter and shorter pieces of learning that we desperately hope will snare the attention of our distracted, jelly-brained learners? Are we not in danger of dumbing down our learning, when the point is to smarten up our learners?
Don’t surrender to the plague of dumbed-down learning; produce content that doesn’t patronise your learners, and that challenges and equips them.
Danger #3. Not letting people leave work at work
Or, Falling under the spell of the evil sorcerer
Microlearning - particularly when it’s mobile - makes it easy for people to learn in snatched 5 minute segments here and there, which suits the busy modern worker rushing from emails to meetings to train platforms.
But is this constant rushed learning something we should be promoting? Is it maybe even a ploy to get employees to do training in their own time, rather than company time? Is it fair to expect this of employees - and is microlearning designed to promote this?
In this modern era, learning should be seen as a part of the job. Rather than expecting employees to complete training while they travel or in the evenings, we should be expecting them to do it as a part of the working day. It should be integral to the culture of our organisations that people set aside time to learn while at work. The overworked, overstressed employee is far too common a sight. Let’s not fall under this spell of glorifying busyness. Instead, let’s make space for people to learn on company time, so they can spend their out-of-work hours actually out of work.
Perhaps the solution for us as learning designers is simply to be honest and mindful of what we’re expecting from our learners.
Danger #4. People not joining the dots
Or, Not realising there’s a dragon about
One of the strengths of microlearning is that it allows you to break a concept or skillset down into understandable chunks. These small chunks build on each other, so the learner gradually puts together an understanding of the wider context.
But in doing this, there is of course the danger that people won’t join the dots. In designing microlearning, you need to ensure you’re thinking about not just the individual pieces, but also how they relate to each other and build into the bigger picture. This is not as simple as taking an existing two-hour course and breaking it down into 10 short videos. You need to make it as easy as possible for your learners to put the pieces together; make the links clear. Otherwise you end up with confused learners who can’t apply what seem to be disparate pieces of information, and the learning becomes ineffective. In quest terms, you’ve got adventurers who see massive footprints, discarded scales, and a gleaming treasure hoard, but fail to grasp that there’s a dragon around. Design well, so that your learners won’t completely miss the point. No one wants to be dragon food.
Danger #5. Hype overtaking teaching
Or, Sinking in quicksand
Microlearning has the word ‘learning’ in it. That’s the point of it; so people learn. But there is a real danger that as designers we forget this primary goal.
Avoid getting so caught up in the technology, or the story, or the framework, that you fail to actually teach anything of value. That's like sinking into quicksand - you'll end up stuck in all your flashy gimmicks with no way back to good, effective learning.
And also avoid getting so caught up in the buzzword that you don’t fully teach something. Yes, it’s ‘micro’ - but don’t let that constrict you so much that you don’t allow that extra minute to fully explain a concept. No one agrees on how long a piece of microlearning should be. I recommend not being too worried about it.
Following the wisdom of the sages, you will be successful in your quest to create incredible microlearning. Journey well, brave adventurer.