Microlearning – Part I – What is it?

Have you ever looked up a quick YouTube video to learn some little tidbit from history? Maybe you have taken small, consistent lessons from a language-learning app. Or perhaps you subscribe to an email newsletter that teaches you something every day or every week. If you have done any of these things, or anything similar to it, you have utilized a learning method called microlearning. “Microlearning … is all about getting your eLearning in small doses, as tiny bursts of training material that you can comprehend in a short time” (efrontlearning). Typically, microlearning can be done in under 10 minutes, and often in as little as three to seven minutes of learning at a time (Valamis).

Where Did Microlearning Begin?

Microlearning has an interesting foundation in Hermann Ebbinghaus’s theory regarding the forgetting curve, which is the antithesis of the learning curve, a term that was later coined from Ebbinghaus’s work. In the mid-1880s, Ebbinghaus discovered that when people learn a large amount of information at one time, they could only recall 21% of the information 30 days later. However, when they reviewed the information periodically throughout the 30 days, they retained something within the range of 90% of it after the month was up (Valamis). While the term microlearning dates back to 1963, it didn’t appear in the digital form that we use it in now until the mid-to-late 1990s, when computers and eventually smart phones began utilizing the internet as a learning resource (Growth Engineering).

How is Microlearning Implemented Now?

Microlearning can hardly be avoided. First, many different kinds of businesses and operations use microlearning because it can fit into nearly any schedule. Second, the average human attention span is apparently shorter than that of a goldfish, so microlearning can work for just about anyone. Finally, microlearning is incredibly versatile, utilizing many different learning methods such as text, videos, games, graphs, and quizzes. Therefore, it can teach to many different learning styles (Better Up).

Who is Using Microlearning?

So who is utilizing microlearning? A better question might be who isn’t? Many different kinds of businesses and corporations have found ways to train their employees through microlearning. Retailers, media groups, health groups, hotels, and many other organizations have their employees take safety training through various microlearning modules, even allowing them to complete those modules while they’re on shift, in short bursts (eLearning Inside). This method is a far cry from the thick handbooks of yesteryear. Language-learning apps, health apps, and various other apps geared toward both children and adults also use consistent microlearning to teach any number of subjects. Microlearning can be used in a variety of ways, but is it successful? Does implementing microlearning have any downfalls? If so, what might be done to improve it? Finally, what is the impact of microlearning on both small and large-scale business success? We will delve into these questions (in the next article.