Predicting the Future of Microlearning

December 5, 2023 by Nicolae Cretu

In my role as an international expert at the National Bank of Moldova, I've had the opportunity to witness the transformative power of microlearning within our learning initiatives. As we navigated the path towards establishing a stronger learning organization, the integration of microlearning became a pivotal aspect of our strategy.

One specific project that stands out is our initiative to launch the first set of microlearning courses. Working closely with the CEF team, comprised of dedicated managers and experts, we strategically placed the Learning Organization puzzle pieces: training the internal team of trainers, analyzing the learning infrastructure, and supporting the trainers in planning and delivering various microlearning activities.

In my experience, what makes microlearning truly impactful is its ability to adapt to the dynamic needs of both organizations and individual learners. The shift in learner behavior influenced by technology and social media is tangible. I've noticed the growing demand for flexible learning solutions, shortening attention spans, and the need for concise, focused learning experiences.

Defined as compact e-learning modules, microlearning modules cover educational, professional, or skill-based topics in less than 20 minutes, concentrating on a single learning objective or topic. The approach refines complex concepts into digestible knowledge, presenting information in short bursts that focus on specific learning objectives.

While online searches for “microlearning tools” lead to numerous microlearning apps and resources (basically all referring to e-learning tools), it's essential to recognize also the unique and impactful aspects of face-to-face learning tools. Yes, learners desire control over their learning experience (which digital tools can offer) but they also seek surprises, deeper knowledge, building skills and emotional richness. While online methods cater to a limited attention span, face-to-face interactions provide a deeper and more engaging experience.

While many websites present microlearning tools as infographics, photos, videos, or illustrations capable of delivering content, it's crucial to note that interaction is vital for advancing to higher-order cognitive processes. Learning isn't solely about retention; higher-order thinking, emotions and physical processes also play a significant role in the learning experience.

Microlearning is destined to follow a trajectory similar to online learning. Just as online learning evolved from pure digital tools to a blended approach, I expect microlearning to undergo a similar transformation. The integration of various face-to-face methods with diverse e-learning tools will create a hybrid model, offering an enhanced and comprehensive approach to organizational learning.

MicroMicro @unsplash

The initial adaptation involves recognizing that, even though microlearning emphasizes small bites of information, these components can seamlessly integrate into blended courses that span at least one week. My recommendation is to structure a microlearning course by incorporating the same stages that any comprehensive organizational learning initiative should undergo: from needs assessment to planning, implementation, and evaluation. The course, utilizing microlearning tools, should extend over a week or more. During this period, learning activities commence with a plethora of online microlearning methods to deliver content. Subsequently, these are complemented by face-to-face microlearning events, or even conventional learning sessions that are enjoyable, engaging, and infused with emotions. This approach transforms the organizational life of employees into a vibrant journey filled with impactful experiences.

The integration of microlearning sessions into workplace scenarios not only enhances dynamism but also improves accessibility, fostering a more engaging learning process. The same approach is equally effective when applied to face-to-face microlearning methods, providing employees with captivating opportunities during coffee breaks, before or after meetings, and even during meetings.

Imagine taking a coffee break and encountering brain teasers to solve while meeting with team members. Pose quick and engaging brain teaser questions or riddles related to the day's topics, encouraging employees to tackle them individually or, preferably, in small groups.

Or picture this scenario: before commencing a meeting, you distribute Chinese fortune cookies, each containing reflection questions tailored to the week's learning topic. As the meeting concludes, employees are encouraged to select a cookie, setting the stage for post-meeting discussions centered around the presented question or mini-case.

This simple yet effective practice not only infuses an element of surprise into the routine meeting process but also fosters a culture of continuous learning. It prompts participants to reflect on the course content, relate it to the ongoing learning objectives, and engage in meaningful discussions that contribute to a deeper understanding of the subject matter. The act of picking a fortune cookie becomes a symbol of the shared commitment to ongoing learning within the team, creating a dynamic and interactive learning environment.

Consider also this engaging and collaborative activity: quick research sprint. Each learner is given the task of conducting brief interviews with three employees from different departments. The goal is to gather diverse perspectives and opinions on a specific topic related to the theme of the week. This activity promotes interaction among team members and encourages cross-departmental knowledge exchange. Learners get a chance to delve into different viewpoints, fostering a richer understanding of the subject matter. By incorporating perspectives from various departments, participants gain valuable insights that go beyond their immediate areas of expertise. This activity cultivates a culture of teamwork and shared learning.

And there are many other methods, for instance learning clubs / meeting points. Imagine strategically placing learning clubs or meeting points near coffee machines. These areas serve as hubs where staff can gather to solve mini-assignments and collaboratively submit answers as a team. You could also consider minute mentoring sessions: short and focused sessions where participants receive quick but valuable insights from experienced colleagues.

Or learning bingo: hand out bingo cards with learning objectives or key concepts related to the week's topic. As participants engage in this activity, they mark off the corresponding spaces on their bingo cards, adding an element of gamification to the learning experience.

And then there are peer-led mini workshops: this approach allows individuals to share their expertise or insights on specific aspects of the learning material, promoting a collaborative learning environment. Flash debates inject energy and dynamism into the learning atmosphere. Visualize quick and lively debates on key topics. Participants can express their opinions, engage in constructive arguments, and gain a deeper understanding of different perspectives.

Yet another option is speed networking: picture a structured networking session where participants rotate through brief one-on-one interactions, allowing to share insights, experiences, and ideas in a fast-paced, engaging format.

Last but not least, try feedback frenzy: participants provide constructive feedback on presentations, projects, or ideas.

Microlearning has demonstrated its efficacy in information retention when compared to traditional learning methods. However, retention only represents the initial stage of cognitive processes. Learners must progress beyond retention to effectively apply knowledge in diverse contexts. It's crucial to analyze how information is applied in various work situations, encouraging the generation of new approaches and fostering innovation within the working environment based on newfound information.

From an alternate perspective, the advent of AI tools is diminishing the significance of retention and lower-level cognitive/thinking skills. These skills are easily replicated by various AI applications. Conversely, higher-order thinking skills are gaining increased value and becoming essential requirements for employees. As AI takes over routine tasks, employees are expected to contribute advanced cognitive abilities, critical thinking, and innovative problem-solving skills to stay relevant in the evolving work landscape.

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