Thinking Through A Microlearning Strategy
The COVID-19 pandemic has seen a sharp rise in the use of eLearning asynchronously and synchronously. Classes were and are held on various platforms via Zoom and Teams, to name a few, as teachers continue to engage their students as best they can in their learning during and outside class hours. Short learning materials such as infographics, videos, and notes have been developed for students’ reference, highlighting key points that they need to look out for in their assignments.
Organizations have also embarked on developing eLearning materials for their staff’s onboarding and continuous training, as many are now working from home and still need to be supported in delivering their current tasks and re-training of staff as their job scope or employment changes. Some organizations have also opted to subscribe to platforms offering ready-made eLearning materials as this could cut short the development time and get staff trained promptly.
Does Microlearning Work?
Patti Shank has provided a thorough and critical review on the effectiveness of microlearning and macrolearning based on research in this journal. It is an insightful read indeed.
Building on the findings in the paper, I would like to define microlearning as brief learning materials that cater to specific user needs and allow for repetitive and spaced learning (as and when needed for recall and practice) for the purpose of performance support.
With reference to Gottfredson and Mosher’s (2020) 5 moments of learning needs model, learning happens in these five moments: Learning for the first time and learning when wanting to know more (both of which are more appropriately approached via formal training); learning when trying to apply; when something goes wrong; or when something changes (which happen as employees work and could be delivered as performance support tools).
I would like to posit that microlearning could be more useful if it is integrated into the user’s workflow learning as performance support rather than for formal instruction. Though research has yet to be carried out to confirm this aspect, my personal experience of teaching for 30 years and of other teachers, generally observe that it is difficult for users to learn something new or engage in deep learning based on eLearning materials in the first instance of training (even if these materials are interactive). Job aids could form part of a microlearning module. However, job aids by themselves may not provide for deep learning, as the contexts in which users may apply the job aids may differ and change over time. Thus, explicit knowledge (displayed via job aids for example) needs to be honed via other means such as mentoring, feedback, observations, and practice within the context of use.
Considerations In Developing/Curating Microlearning For Organizations
If organizations do embark on developing or curating microlearning, these long-term considerations may need to be taken into account:
1. Ready-Made Or Original (Customized) Materials
Good and affordable microlearning materials are readily available nowadays. There might be certain needs specific to the organization where customized materials become necessary. Care must be taken before embarking on developing these materials (in lieu of on-site training) as the cost, time, and manpower could be more than what was bargained for in the initial stages. Customized materials however are easily repackaged for other purposes within the organization and reusable without copyright issues.
2. Workflow Learning
Users are often not aware of the availability of microlearning modules in the organization, where and in what way these might be useful to them as they are not part of the “official” training program. Tracking user completion after numerous reminders and a short quiz shows that users have read and gone through the materials. Can users apply what they have read? Thus, organizations need to factor in user access to these materials in view of the users’ workflow to encourage more instances of application and transfer.
3. Organization’s Knowledge Management Strategy
Organizations hold raw data on various measures, information (data which has been made comprehensible), and knowledge (use of information which is adapted to specific contexts) to serve various purposes and goals. Organizations may need to consider strategies on how to provide for knowledge sharing across different departments considering the cost, volume of microlearning materials that is growing yearly, user enrollment, and the maintenance of these materials on the hosting platform.
Microlearning could be useful as a performance support tool. It is hoped that in adopting large-scale microlearning, organizations will take a long-term view as to how to incorporate it into the users’ workflow learning and the organizations’ knowledge management strategy.