• Why micro-learning works for me

    Posted by Admin in Artist News on January 21, 2018

    Over the past twelve months, micro-learning has quietly worked itself into my daily routine. Absolutely every day (I’m on a 360-day streak), I practise my French using the Duolingo app. Not quite so often (because it takes a lot of concentration), but still regularly, I do brain training using Peak. And the latest addition is KnowFast, which sends me a daily learning video covering anything from history to science to cookery.

    The sum total time commitment for these three apps is probably around 10 minutes a day, which is not inconsiderable but, because I can access them on mobile devices, means there is nearly always the opportunity. And if the task slips my memory, I get nagging notifications on my Apple Watch.
    So yes, I’m sort of hooked. But what effect is micro-learning having in terms of longer-term learning? Well, Duolingo is definitely improving my French vocabulary and grammar, although I’m short on conversation practice – something I will be remedying with numerous trips to France for a current project. Peak may not be making me cleverer but is definitely improving my ability to do brain training exercises. KnowFast is entertaining and informative but, because none of the knowledge is rehearsed, almost all evaporates immediately.

    What this modest amount of experience tells me is that micro-learning does not in itself guarantee effectiveness (which is true of just about all media). Success depends on how well you apply long-standing learning and teaching principles, and make sure that important knowledge and skills are reinforced on many occasions over a period of time.

    What my experience is also showing me is the power of gamification and constant reminders. With Duolingo and Peak I’m looking to move up the levels and maintain my streaks. With KnowFast, I want to dismiss the reminders having obtained my daily fix.

    There are many definitions of micro-learning but they all seem problematic to me, limiting the idea unnecessarily. For me, the essential point is that a micro-learning experience is short, whether or not it is regular and regardless of who is in control of what the learner learns and how.

    Long before the micro-learning term was coined, the practice was widespread, almost ubiquitous. Who does not watch videos on YouTube to see a demonstration of how to do something or an explanation of how something works? Who does not read web articles, blogs, forum posts and wiki pages to obtain factual information? We have been sold on micro-learning for some time.

    What we have now are more commercial micro-learning services, in many cases bundling up mini-lessons into short courses. For some time we have had the Khan Academy covering maths and Lynda.com providing tech skills. Now we have more general portals allowing teachers to connect with learners across all sorts of subjects. So there is curious.com, with 13,000 lessons from 1500 teachers; coursmos, with 50,000 videos organised into 11,000 courses; and Highbrow, which will email you 5-minute lessons displayed as text and graphics.

    I don’t personally see micro-learning as evidence of shorter attention spans as is sometimes claimed. We have never liked being bombarded with lots of new information and for good reason – it doesn’t work, at least when you’re a novice. Small chunks of information, delivered as and when needed, are clearly more useful. But we are perfectly capable of concentrating for hours on end when faced with compelling stories and problem-solving challenges. Learning can be highly successful in chunks of hours and days, but not when it is an information dump.

    So we know micro-learning is likely to be a popular personal choice outside work, but where does it fit in the workplace? Well, it is unlikely that, on its own, it is going to provide someone with the skills, insights and confidence needed to perform to a high level in their work. But it certainly can satisfy needs for additional personal development and fill in all the gaps left after basic training. It can also fit into blended solutions, either as preparation for practical application or as on-going follow-up.

    What does micro-learning mean to the e-learning industry? It is certainly disruptive, because it obviously requires much tighter editing and really good writing. It is also heavily video focused, and video has not been the medium of choice for most e-learning designers. What’s more, it benefits from gamification and a degree of artificial intelligence, which places a strain on software engineering. But it is what learners want and it will make a valuable contribution to an organisation’s learning strategy, so ignore it at your peril.

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