eLearning on laptop

How Micro is Micro-learning?

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Almost no one likes sitting in a classroom for an extended period of time.  And yet almost no one minds sitting in a movie theater for two or more hours at a time.  That fact right there should tell us that there is more going on under the surface of “Micro-learning” than just making everything as short as possible.

The basic premise of micro-learning is very straightforward: Make learning more accessible by making it shorter.  Often times this reduction in length is also accompanied by making sure that the micro-segments are available on mobile phones or any other platform so that any spare moment can be converted into a learning moment.  This is an excellent idea in theory.  Accessibility to learning is an incredibly important issue, and making learning available helps make sure there aren’t any excuses for why a course isn’t being completed.  But in practice there are some problems that can quickly crop up.

The first problem is an oversimplification of content. In principle there is of course nothing wrong with trying to simplify content.  Not everyone needs a step by step walkthrough of every nitty-gritty aspect of a procedure, nor does everyone necessarily need all of the background information on why a process is the way it is.  But if necessary details are left out, then the training can actually become detrimental because it doesn’t fully answer the questions it was intended to.  In an attempt to make everything as simple as possible, a course can become too simplified and actually leave the learner with more questions than it answers.

The problem of over-simplification tends to happen as a result of this second problem: privileging length over everything else.  A shorter course is not necessarily better than a longer course.  Rather, everything else being equal, a shorter course will probably be better than a longer course.  So it’s actually counter productive to make sacrifices just in order to have the course be shorter.  A longer but more engaging course will be a better investment in the long run than a course that can be completed in 2 minutes, but that no one bothers to pay attention to for those 2 minutes.  

And this leads us right to the third problem: people aren’t invested in micro-learning.  Although it might seem counter-intuitive, especially because longer courses have serious problems with getting people to fully complete them without losing engagement, it can actually be easier to generate engagement and buy-in with a longer course than a micro-course.  Think about it this way:  a larger course feels like an investment from the learner’s perspective while a micro-course feels disposable. They know a long course is important just because of it’s length and so will actively try to engage with it, while a two minute course feels like it can’t have involved much work (even if it did!) and therefore isn’t worthy of as much attention.

The solution to all of these problems comes down to making a course exactly as long as it needs to be.  If a concept can be fully explained in two minutes then it doesn’t need to any more time spent on it.  But if a concept is complicated enough that it requires a lot of time, then that time should be invested.   Remember, there are lots of factors that go into making a course the best it can be, and length is only one of those factors.