Micro-learning’s unsung sibling

Micro-learning is so hot right now.

But I’m not going to deliberate over its definition. If you’re into that, check out Shannon Tipton’s Microlearning: The Misunderstood Buzzword and 7 Deadly Myths of Microlearning.

Nor am I going to try to convince you to jump on board, or abandon ship.

Instead, I’m going to consider firstly how micro-learning might be used in a corporate training context; and secondly, pivot towards something slightly different.

And if you were to find any value in these musings, I’d be delighted.

How micro-learning might be used

The nature of micro-learning lends itself to the campaign model.

Independent but related packets of content that are distributed over time can be woven into the working day of the target audience, and hence reduce time “off the floor”. In this context, the micro-learning is the training.

Similarly I see an opportunity for micro-learning to be deployed before the training. The content can prime the target audience for the experience to follow, perhaps in the form of a flipped class.

And of course I also see an opportunity for micro-learning to be deployed after the training: what one may call “reinforcement” to improve retention and increase the probability of knowledge transfer.

Sure, but does it work?

Well cognitive science suggests it does. I recommend reading up on the forgetting curve, subsumption theory, Piaget, cognitive load, the spacing effect and interleaving. It’s worth it.

A hand holding a pen pointing to a chart.

The pivot

While I’m obviously an advocate of micro-learning, a less buzzy but perhaps just-as-important variant is micro-assessment.

This is similar to micro-learning except the content is in question format – preferably scenario based and feedback rich.

In one sense, the two approaches may be conflated. Formative assessment is nothing new, and a few daily questions over a set timespan could constitute training, or prompt critical thinking pre-training, or promote application post-training.

If you want more bedtime reading, I suggest looking up the testing effect or its synonyms, retrieval practice and active recall.

However I feel the untapped potential of micro-assessment lay in its summative power. As the bank of results builds up over time, the data can be used to diagnose the population’s understanding of the subject matter. If the questions are aligned to competencies, the knowledge gaps can be identified and closed with further interventions.

Hence, micro-assessment can be leveraged to execute an assessment first strategy, thereby increasing the relevance of the L&D service offering to the business.

And if you want yet more bedtime reading, I suggest exploring metacognition and its effect on motivation.

On that note, good night!

9 thoughts on “Micro-learning’s unsung sibling

  1. Interesting idea Ryan!
    Thanks for sharing. It helps me to take a fresh look at something that is obvious. The initial name and functinallity of the aNewSpring learning journey platform was ‘memotrainer’ and it is still an important functionallity of the platform. It sends out a few questions in a push notification (app) and/or email to work on knowledge retention to ‘beat the forgetting curve’. I like your perspective to name it micro assessment. It might be just a different name but it is not, thanks for giving me that insight.

  2. I’d say it’s more of a conjoined twin! Is it really microlearning if it doesn’t involve assessment? It’s a common misconception that microlearning is just breaking your content out into smaller pieces, rather than seeing each smaller piece as an end-to-end learning experience that also is part of a whole.

    I like your synonyms and further reading ideas. Piaget is good, but Robert Kegan is more interesting – he considers how you create the conditions for people to move between Piaget’s stages, rather than focus on the stages themselves.

    Be delighted Ryan, your musings provide regular food for thought, and some occasional bedtime reading!

  3. @Ger Driesen – Cheers Ger. It sounds like you are on a good thing with aNewSpring. Thanks for sharing!

    @divergentlearning – You and Shannon are two peas in a pod :) I’m not familiar with Kegan, thanks for the tip. And cheers also for the kind words Neil, I always appreciate your support.

  4. Ryan – Great job outlining how microlearning can be used to create motivation for training, keep attention during training, and reinforce concepts after training. This definitely fits with cognitive principles regarding length and timing of learning events. I’d add that another way microlearning is used effectively is as performance support. Pull vs. push. I mention this as so many people focus primarily on the length of the content when discussing microlearning when its purpose and the way it is used is at least as important, if not more so.
    I sometimes refer to what you are calling micro-assessment as “guided discovery.” In any event, using questions to teach is great…if adaptive…even better. Cheers!

  5. Microlearning is based on the whole learning experience. My students enjoy it because it is broken down into smaller digestible chunks. It helps with adult learners and increasing retention rates. Thanks for sharing this perspective.

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