peopleThere has been a lot of discussion about micro learning on the LinkedIn, T&D, the CLO publications and more within the last few months. There are 80+ companies on LinkedIn dedicated to Micro-learning. Even a few days ago, I saw that a Micro-learning template from the Rapid E-learning blog has surfaced. Actually I was waiting to see how long it would take for one to appear. So apparently, the term is here to stay.

Just yesterday afternoon I was having a drink with an old work associate, when another patron asked the bartender where he learned how to flip bottles and do all the other tricks he used to entertain us. The bartender said he learned the techniques from a YouTube video– it runs about 2:30 minutes. I thought, “What a great example of Micro-learning,” but when I asked him about the process he used to learn/practice the techniques, it didn’t sound so “micro.” He said he liked that the videos were short 2-5 minutes each, but that he had to watch them 5-10 times, or more, while practicing the techniques. He estimated that it took him 20-30 hours to master three (3) moves, and that the most frustrating aspect was not being able to get feedback on his performance.

So, in this case, it appears the “Micro-learning” was simply the “present information” portion of a larger lesson. As a result, our bartender was left with developing his own practice, pacing, assessment, and feedback. Part of the difficulty here is that the video lessons involved the psycho-motor domain, but the lack of a complete “learning unit/events of instruction” shows how risky micro-learning can be; “stand-alone” micro-learning may be best suited to topics involving basic facts, concepts, processes and procedures.

I’ve also heard Micro-learning is an instructional strategy for performance improvement which gives me cause to pause. Does Micro-learning really lead to performance improvement? The conversation about the bartender leads me to say no. While there is a lot of research out there about performance improvement, there is little research done to suggest that Micro-learning is an effective strategy for reaching long term learning goals. Possibly because of the fragmentation. It may be difficult to string the concepts together over time to reach those learning goals.

Additional questions to ponder include: Is the micro-learning designed as a smaller unit in a larger course, or to support immediate performance needs? In either case, does the micro-learning “chunk” enough information to allow the learner to immediately apply want he or she has learned– either “just-in-time” or later in subsequent units in the larger course? If not, there is a risk of “incomplete encoding” or forgetting– particularly if the learning is not in context with the performance task at hand. Does the micro-learning promote, or assist, the learner in developing self-assessment, self-pacing and feedback needed to master the knowledge or skills covered in the unit? Finally, is there the potential for micro-learning to ever lead to cognitive synthesis, or higher-order thinking and elaboration?

Sue CzeropskiSue Czeropski, PhD, CPT (and an honorable mention from my colleague Curtis Pembrook who shared his thoughts on the subject)