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Megatrends in MOOCs: #4 Microlearning Paths

By Bryant Nielson, Managing Director On April 16, 2014 Under eLearning, Featured Posts, Learning & Development, MOOC, Training

micro-learningIn the previous article, we explored how corporate training is moving away from seat-time and toward competencies. This larger picture here is not just a shift in how learning is measured, but an entire re-visioning of what effective training looks like.

Standard models of training, whether they are instructor-led or computer-based, look like very much like college classes—employees are taken out of their normal work environments to spend four or eight or forty hours “learning” things they may or may not encounter in their day-to-day jobs, and likely won’t remember if they do. But standard models are quickly being swept out the door by training methods that take place not outside of the normal work environment, but right smack in the middle of it. This has resulted in a new interest in microlearning, which is essentially any type of learning done in very short bursts. Digital learning environments, like MOOCs, can provide frameworks for a wide variety of microlearning activities.

What is microlearning and why should we use it

Microlearning has become a bit of a buzzword lately in the training and development world, but it is one that is not well defined. The main reason for this is that microlearning is not one single thing. In the context of training, microlearning often refers to short (10 minutes or less) videos and tutorials, quick quizzes, and other features of standard courses, just compressed into a smaller package. But it is much more than that—every time employees refer to a job aid, Google the answer to a question, or ask a colleague for advice, they are doing self-directed microlearning. When we conceptualize microlearning in this way, we realize that much of workplace education takes place not in classes at all, but in the course of regular work activities.

The question isn’t so much “Why should we use microlearning?” (employees are already using it—all of the time) as “Why should we formalize microlearning into training and development programs?” Here are several reasons this model of learning is becoming more widely accepted:

  • It brings learning to employees while they are performing their daily activities, rather than requiring them to leave their work environments. This helps companies develop into learning organizations.
  • Microlearning resources can be made available on-demand to facilitate just-in-time learning.
  • Microlearning and mobile learning go hand in hand. People are using their mobile devices more and more in the workplace, for communication as well as for finding answers to questions.
  • Knowledge is changing faster than ever before—a concept or process an employee learns today is likely to be obsolete a few months down the road. Microlearning allows employees to immediately access the knowledge they need, rather than having to wait until the next designated training day. In addition, training departments don’t have to redevelop full courses every time something changes; they can just release a new video or new performance support tool.
  • Motivation is high. Microlearning is primarily a pull method: learners access the resources they need when the need them, rather than just acting as passive recipients of knowledge that they may or may not recognize as useful.

Microlearning isn’t necessarily appropriate for all aspects of workplace education, but it is highly advantageous in environments in which people don’t have a lot of concentrated time to devote to their training, for process reinforcement, and for spaced repetition, among others.

How do MOOCs facilitate microlearning?

In a post last fall, I wrote that MOOCs have changed what learners expect from their educational experiences and that the technologies that support MOOCs can also support microlearning. Now, as MOOCs have expanded, in both size and format (i.e., MOOCs have evolved and now the acronym encompasses many different types of courses), they offer several options for training departments to implement microlearning paths within an organization. Here are some of them:

  • Short videos and other learning resources. This is the most popular form of microlearning and the one featured in most MOOCs. Five- to ten-minute videos can be used for everything from explaining a concept to providing the answers to frequently asked questions, running short software tutorials, and introducing new products. Other microlearning resources, like job aids, documents, podcasts, and even short interactive elearning activities, can also be housed within a MOOC.
  • Spaced repetition and practice activities. While learners are working their way through a MOOC, mini activities like assessment questions, short quizzes, and more can be delivered periodically to employees’ computers or mobile devices, enhancing learning through spaced repetition and practice.
  • Communication and collaboration platforms. MOOCs can incorporate discussion boards, Q&A sessions, Twitter feeds, and other social media tools to provide opportunities for employees across organizations to communicate and collaborate. This helps employees expand their personal learning networks, giving them a broader range of experts to consult when necessary.
  • Credentials and gamification. We’ll talk about this in a later post in this megatrends series, but microlearning presents an ideal environment for gamification. Employees in MOOCs can work to earn points and digital badges, and competition between individuals and teams can be used to foster motivation for training.

There are many other ways microlearning paths can be formalized via MOOCs. The key considerations are that the learning activities should be short, available on-demand, and immediately relevant to a job task.

Challenges to using MOOCs and microlearning in corporate training

The biggest challenge to bringing MOOCs and microlearning together in corporate training and development is that this path requires a complete reimagining of what workplace learning looks like as well as some sophisticated technology to support it. However, both of these issues are quickly becoming moot. Companies are moving away from traditional models and more toward competency-based training and performance support, and learning management systems are evolving to better support both MOOCs and mobile learning.

In a Corporate Learning Network post just last month, Chris Appleton described the advantages of adopting microlearning like this:

“In a corporate setting, learning solutions must be dynamic, adaptable, scalable, and available on demand whenever and wherever they are needed. They must be surgically precise and cater to individual need no matter the function, background, and learning preference of the professional audience. Companies will often create large-scale programs for some of their most important initiatives….The investment of time and money to run these massive programs can become so unwieldy that they are no longer agile and able to adapt to the ever-changing needs of the business…Offering microlearning solutions may effectively eliminate these barriers while delivering the knowledge and skills needed for successful role performance.”

That last part is key: “delivering the knowledge and skills needed for successful role performance.” This is, after all, the goal of all organizational training and development. Combining MOOCs with microlearning provides a powerful method for achieving this goal.

Copyright 2014 Bryant Nielson. All Rights Reserved.

Bryant Nielson – Managing Director of CapitalWave Inc.– offers 25+ years of training and talent management helping executives, business owners, and top performing sales executives in taking the leap from the ordinary to extraordinary. Being a big believer in Technology Enabled Learning, Bryant seeks to create awareness, motivate adoption and engage organizations and people in the changing business of education. Bryant is a entrepreneur, trainer, and strategic training adviser for many organizations. Bryant’s business career has been based on his results-oriented style of empowering the individual.

Learn more about Bryant at LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/bryantnielson

Bryant Nielson - EzineArticles Expert Author

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