What is Micro-learning and Why Should We Care About it? - The Vibons Blog

What is Micro-learning and Why Should We Care About it?

By Cigdem Calik, Vibons   |    10 min read

What is Micro-learning and Why Should We Care About it?

By Cigdem Calik, Vibons
 10 min read

We have now entered Industry 4.0, the fourth industrial revolution, and digital technology is transforming the way we work. As new generations enter the workforce, expectations are rapidly changing. Mobility is transforming both our business and social lives. And, in addition to these fundamental changes, the current explosion of information is creating vast new territories, which makes our lives even more complicated.

Many people struggle to keep up with the information rapidly coming in from multiple different sources, especially when their time is limited. It’s overwhelming to actually “learn” something. This transformation of information has made new methods for learning essential. We need to be able to focus easily and quickly and to extract the essence of the knowledge that we must now “learn faster” than ever before.

But is this possible for us, the overwhelmed modern learners?

The modern learner: Distracted and impatient

The human brain can only focus on one conscious thought or action at a time. A 2009 Stanford study shows that our minds cannot multitask. If we force them to do so, we usually pay a steep mental price. Dr. JoAnn Deak, a noted educator and psychologist, argues that trying to do too many things at once altogether eradicates the brain’s capacity for deep thinking. A study conducted at the University of London also found that subjects who multitasked experienced as large a drop in their IQs as someone who missed a night of sleep.

According to an infographic called “Meet the Modern Learner,” made by the research and consultancy group Bersin, trying to multitask all the time makes today’s employees overwhelmed, distracted and impatient.

The modern learner is only able to devote 1% of his or her time each week to professional development and learning, which averages out to 4.8 minutes per day. According to the Association for Talent Development’s 2016 State of the Industry report, the average number of hours employees have for learning annually is 33.5, just under four work days total.

Since we’re stuck in today’s fast-paced, distracting and multitasking world, how do we ensure enough time for corporate learning and personal development?

Learning in small quantities

In 1956, George A. Miller, a cognitive psychologist from Harvard, introduced a concept in the journal Psychology Review that became known as “Miller's Magic Number.” He posited that people can store only seven (plus or minus two) pieces of information in their short-term memory.

Daniel Schacter, a leading contemporary memory researcher based at Harvard, approaches the situation from another perspective. According to his research, people tend to forget around 80% of what they learn in 30 days, creating a downward curve of memory known as the “forgetting curve.” But learning information in small quantities increases retention and can reverse this curve and create what is known as the “retention curve.”

According to Mygrow Microlearning Research, people should keep in mind that “information in small chunks” and “bite-sized courses” are more effective than mountains of data when it comes to comprehending information.

The arrival of new generations and mobile phones have had a significant impact on the learning process as well. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Millennials are expected to constitute 50% of the global workforce by 2020. The new generation raised with digital technology certainly has different expectations on learning content. The global mobile learning market is continuously expanding and likely to reach $14.5 billion in worth by 2019. Living in a time when everyone has a mobile phone, people find it hard to focus on lengthy content and tend to use their mobiles to access learning modules wherever possible.

In this midst of this chaotic revolution, so many factors are reshaping the human brain: among them mobile devices, new generations of employees, their changing expectations and side effects of a modern digital world. At a moment when the average attention span continues to drop, and learning behaviors change faster than ever, the nature of training is transforming from long lectures to bite-sized learning exercises, which we now call “microlearning.”

In a 2015 survey, Dresden University of Technology researchers stated that “Short content drives 20% [of our] attention,” referring to the interaction that occurs between information and the learner during microlearning. They argued that, through microlearning, learners could apply digestible, relevant and interactive learning resources immediately.

“Why is microlearning content so important? Quite simply because the way we work has radically changed. We are constantly bombarded by distractions.”

- Josh Bersin, Principal and Founder of Bersin by Deloitte

What is micro-learning?

Micro-learning is a relatively new term. It only came into use in about 2002, after the Research Studios Austria coined it, using it to mean “learning in small steps.”

Dr. Sydney Savion, Chief of Education Strategy at Dell EMC-Education Service, defines micro-learning as digestible bite-sized learning, delivered to the learner in short bursts, regardless of whether the learner is the customer or the employee. Courses structured around small, digestible segments give the learner a rapid introduction to a distinct piece of information, aiming to reach a learning outcome in just a couple of minutes.

Tugrul Turkkan, the founder of Vibons, a community-based animation platform focused on corporate learning and communication, summarizes the process as comprised of three simple phases: “First, simplify the information with the principle of ‘Less is More.’ Second, chop it up to well planned, digestible segments and finally, stimulate the learner!”

Compared to macro learning, these digestible servings of information have significant benefits:

  • They are bite-sized which keeps learners focused until the end.
  • They are developed for both mobile devices and computers, crucial for today’s digital learning environment.
  • They are typically under 10 minutes in duration, more effective than the traditional approach of hour-long and day-long courses.
  • Their content can be applied immediately, fitting perfectly with the “agile” modern approach.
  • They are more budget-friendly than other mediums.

What the numbers say

Businesses need a faster way to get the right educational material to their employees and customer, at the moment they need it. In this fast-paced atmosphere, inflexible, traditional learning methods, which tend to be instructor oriented and lecture-based, are losing their usefulness. A case study by Johnson & Johnson reveals that micro-learning modules raise course completion rates.

When Johnson & Johnson Vision Care substituted traditional training programs for eye care professionals with micro-learning modules, completion rates of their online courses increased by 740%. Furthermore, 93% of users indicated that they would like to use the platform again for their training.

The use of micro-learning is continuously expanding in other contexts too. According to a 2017 survey by ATD, 38% of 596 talent development professionals currently use the micro-learning approach and another 41% plan to start within the next year.

Additional data shows the levels of customer satisfaction as a result of microlearning. According to 2016 Aberdeen Group research, companies that offer microlearning to employees are 30% more likely to improve their customer satisfaction levels.

Microlearning appears to be the future of learning. If organizations want to keep up with shifting training needs, engage all their employees and train them quickly through digestible amounts of content, it is crucial that they follow the “microlearning” path that traditional learning led us to. As the most appropriate medium for our era, microlearning has the potential to make learning substantially more efficient.

Microlearning can take different forms: a presentation, activity, game, discussion, quiz, book chapter, or video, for instance. In order to achieve the greatest benefit, how do you decide which form is the best fit?

Best medium: Animated videos

As Marshall McLuhan, the great media philosopher, proclaimed in 1964, “The Medium is the Message.” According to McLuhan and his teachings, the medium through which a message is experienced shapes the user’s understanding of the message. McLuhan warns us that we are often distracted by the content of a medium, especially if a given medium is not the best fit for the context we are in. WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell argues that it is also the medium, or media, that determines the nature of creative content. If we adapt this line of thought to the microlearning space, determining the best approach becomes easier.

Imagine that you have strong training content, but your medium is so weak that your audience is unlikely to learn and take action. Video is often the best medium for creating training content that engages the audience and makes learning more efficient in a short span of time. Researchshows that video-based content is ideal for effectively conveying the intended message in just seconds, and, according to the 2015 Nielsen Global Digital Landscape Survey, video is the most popular type of content consumed globally: 65% of respondents preferred watching video.

So the question is, should it be "live-action" or "computer-animated"? According to “12 Principles of Multimedia Learning” by Richard E. Mayer, a Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, people do not necessarily learn better from a multimedia lesson in which the speaker’s image is presented on screen, as tends to be the case in live-action videos. In contrast, when the content is presented through animation (motion graphics and visual metaphors), learning becomes more effective. In “Animation as an Aid to Multimedia Learning,” Mayer discussed the great potential animation has to improve human learning, especially when the goal is also to promote deep understanding. Animated microlearning videos can engage a learner’s full attention and ensure the learning process unfolds more effectively than in live action videos.

Here are six tips for producing highly effective animated microlearning videos:

Hone the prose: Integrate storytelling into your microlearning video. Not only does story help engage learners, but it also compels a stronger emotional connection to the subject matter. Additionally, Mayer’s research proves that people learn better during e-learning lessons when terms are introduced in a conversational rather than formal style.

Use simple but effective visuals: Visual complexity can distract learners. Remove any non-essential visual content (for instance, avoid using too many graphics, illustrations, etc.) to avoid reaching cognitive load. Instead, apply “the right image” to successfully, efficiently convey an idea to the learner.

Find the ideal length: Try not to exceed 3 minutes. If a video must be longer, divide it up into shorter, digestible segments.

Promote retention: You can add three to five questions & key takeovers at the end of your micro-learning module to improve retention rates.

Use variety to keep the learner focused: Don't forget that the average attention span is only 8 seconds. A monotonous rhythm and drawn-out scenes make it more likely that a learner will become quickly distracted and lose their concentration. To compel learner to remain focused, combine a variety of tools, such as dynamic visual metaphors and animations with strong and distinctive narratives.

Employ gamification: Gamification involves using game elements to engage learners and increases their motivation. Combining microlearning with gamification is an ideal strategy when longer-lasting engagement becomes necessary. (For instance, this approach works well for big projects, like developing Digital Onboarding, Digital Sales Training, Digital Competency Development programs).

In conclusion, a case study by Vibons offers a good example of the crucial role animated videos play in micro-learning. Turkkan summarizes Vibons’ experience as follows:

“A private bank gave us the assignment of condensing their cyber security training video for new employees. Their existing content, which is 28 minutes and screen-based, is so long and so detailed that the completion rate of the training is just 38%. Learning content should not exceed 600 words or 4 minutes. After shortening and animating the training video, the e-learning completion rate improved to 82% from 38%. With 15,000 employees completing simplified learning content, the company saved at least $200,000.”

“The biggest reason our clients turn to micro-learning is that they have a distributed workforce, so they can't put everybody together in the same room.”

- Will Holland, Founder and President of Expand Interactive

After congratulating yourself for concentrating long enough to read this article, do you think you are ready to bring micro-learning into your workplace?

If so, please contact us: http://vibons.com/ContactUs

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