• Six common micro-learning myths

    Posted by Admin in Artist News on January 21, 2018

    Micro-learning can justifiably be accused of being the latest digital learning bandwagon, here today, gone tomorrow. Real cynics might regard it as just another way of re-branding self-study e-learning, a medium which has spent too long in the compliance ghetto and has suffered in terms of popularity as a result.

    I am not one of those cynics. I believe there is ample evidence to show how, when it is designed and implemented well, it can achieve great results. But it is not a panacea and works best as a strategic element in an overall architecture for workplace learning.

    Before we can reach that happy state of affairs we need to agree our terminology and then lay bare the most common myths about how micro-learning works. I’ve come with six ideas that need some careful examination.

    Myth 1: Micro-learning is a new idea

    Well, the term may be relatively new, but the idea is clearly not. My definition of micro-learning is ‘a way of organising self-directed learning into a lot of small chunks’. How small is that? Well, that’s for the learner to decide. If a digital resource achieves its goal without overloading or boring the learner then it’s probably small enough. Most micro-learning resources are under five minutes, but 10 minutes could work.

    We’ve been developing solutions based on many, short digital learning resources for many years now. Indeed, many of the most notable examples of micro-learning – Khan Academy, Duolingo, TEDx and of course YouTube – were well established before anyone started to brand them with a specific term. In many ways the concept of micro-learning has evolved because of these successes – it seeks to explain how hundreds of millions of people have become such avid users of digital learning, probably without realising that this was what they were doing.

    Myth 2: Micro-learning works because nowadays people have shorter attention spans

    This idea is widespread that somehow people have changed because of their experience of digital media so that they no longer have the capability enjoyed by humans for tens of thousands of years to concentrate in order to achieve things that require time.

    Well, there is no scientific evidence to back this up. People have always struggled to maintain concentration on new information for more than 5-10 minutes when they are new to that field of study. They simply don’t have enough hooks to connect to the new information. They get exhausted. Most of our teaching and training ignores this which is one reason why so much of it doesn’t work.

    We may like to receive new information in small chunks but we have no trouble concentrating for hours when we really want to, to discover the outcome to a story (think page-turning novels and box sets) or to solve a complex problem (think computer games). As baby boomers and millennials alike we love storytelling and we love a challenge. And these are what should constitute the lion’s share of any learning activity.

    Myth 3: Micro-learning automatically solves the problem of retention and transfer

    Vendors of micro-learning content often state the value of spaced practice and they are right in that this is one of the most well-researched of ideas in learning. We know that people are much more likely to retain and apply new knowledge and skills if they are exposed to it repeatedly over time. Cramming provides short-term benefits but these quickly fade. Little and often is a much more successful long-term strategy.

    However, there’s nothing in the concept of micro-learning as such that implies the use of spaced practice. If a learner receives new information in small chunks over an extended period it is true that they are less likely to be overloaded. But only active, repeated rehearsal of the same knowledge and skill will help in retention and application.

    To apply the spaced practice effect the learner needs to interact with new ideas and to practise new skills. Repeated testing works well. Application to real-world tasks works well. Being shown the same video over and over is not enough.

    Myth 4: Micro-learning can be applied to any learning problem

    As we have seen, micro-learning works well in presenting information in small chunks (usually on video) and allowing for repeated rehearsal of some new skills (those that can be practised on a computer). But if you rely entirely on micro-learning you will be leaving some important gaps.

    We cannot rely on self-directed learning as our only tool. Interaction with peers, with experts, teachers and coaches can be absolutely vital in establishing goals, challenging and testing out new ideas, obtaining feedback on our performance and celebrating success.

    And we cannot rely on computers as the basis for all skill-building. Some skills are not well suited to practising on computers – at least not given the hardware and software to which we currently have access. And nearly all skills eventually have to be practised in the real-world. Even the most prolific of Duolingo users have to talk to a real person using their new language at some point.

    And some learning activities require a lot more than 5-10 minutes to achieve results, notably those that involve a major challenge such as a case study, a simulation, a game or a real-world project.
    Micro-learning is useful but it is not enough.

    Myth 5: Micro-learning is inherently motivating

    Just because a learning resource does not bore us to tears or overload us with mountains of information does not mean it is necessarily motivating – an absence of negatives does not imply a positive.

    Micro-learning that is relevant will be motivating. A resource is relevant if it solves a current problem, provides us with some useful advantage or reduces a risk. If the learner cannot see the point, then ten seconds is too long.

    Myth 6: Micro-learning is for mobile devices

    Micro-learning and mobile devices do work well together. Most micro-learning consists of videos, short texts and simple interactions – all easily viewed on a small screen and all easily consumed when we have a little time to spare when we are out and about.

    But there is absolutely no reason why micro-learning should not work just as well on desktop PCs and laptops. In the end a computer is a computer and that’s all we need.

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