It’s never been easier to learn.
The internet is always one click or swipe away, full of any information you can dream of. There are YouTube channels that condense sophisticated concepts, podcasts played at twice the speed, easy-to-follow online or courses, and even next-day delivery on paper books, if you prefer the old-school approach.
Ancient Greek philosopher Socrates went as far as to say: “There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance.” Although that might be an oversimplification to prove a point, there’s no denying a thirst for knowledge is a good thing. But like everything in life, there is a catch. With so much information at your fingertips, where do you begin? What does effective learning look like anyway?
In this article, we’ll guide you through microlearning, an approach to knowledge that focuses on short bursts of focus. The stereotype of hours and hours hunched over a mountain of textbooks doesn’t have to be the case, and thanks to microlearning, you can make great progress while having fun.
What is a microlearning strategy?
The way that people consume content has changed through the use of modern technology.
When studying a topic, whether you’re doing some corporate learning or studying in school, you might move between a brief video on YouTube, a concise blog post, reading a long-form textbook, or looking at graphics that present complex topics in visual form.
Content is available in a multitude of forms, to suit a diverse selection of learning (or E-learning) styles.
Studying in short bursts
The micro in microlearning applies to how short spells of study are.
Talent professionals consider 13 minutes to be the maximum amount of time for microlearning. Effective lengths range from 10 minutes, to between two and five minutes. That’s a noticeable difference compared to old-school education set-ups, where lectures might last an hour or more.
Information presented with microlearning is highly specific. Unlike conventional learning, microlearning breaks topics down to the essentials. For example, think of how a search engine works: if you’re interested in productivity, you might search for “productivity tips for remote workers,” or something equally niche. Because of millions and millions of results online, you’re then presented with a blog post that covers that exact subtopic, without having to spend hours researching productivity in general.
The popularity of mobile apps has made microlearning even more efficient. Gamification, in particular, is often used in conjunction with microlearning. Gamification is the process of adding gameplay elements to non-gaming environments, allowing users to pick up new skills in bite-sized chunks, whilst having fun at the same time.
A great example of that is using an app, such as DuoLingo, for learning a new language. Bite sized courses and other traditional Elearning courses encourages learners to build their skill development and to enjoy it at the same time! What’s more, by combining these short bursts of learning with an effective time blocking strategy can benefit learners even more.
How effective are microlearning strategies?
The question is, can microlearning really replace hours of study?
You won’t necessarily use microlearning to earn a Ph.D., but for many causes, particularly workplace training and job aids, microlearning is incredibly effective. In fact, an organization’s microlearning strategy, or an alternative, gamification, can keep learners engaged for better than traditional learning environments.
Gamification built by instructional designers has been found to increase performance rates by 35 percent. Learners prefer these upgrades, and with many services, content is refined for maximum efficiency thanks to machine learning and artificial intelligence.
One of our favorite microlearning examples from pop culture is DuoLingo, which is always studying the best scientific approaches to language learning. They discovered that 34 hours on their platform is the equivalent of a full university semester, showing the power of microlearning content.
It’s worth noting if you use the app to get access to these “knowledge nuggets” for 10 minutes per day, you can achieve this success in just six months. Microlearning focuses the mind in pretty amazing ways!
Other studies have found that microlearning helps to avoid fatigue that comes from learning new information with traditional e-learning. Not only that, but the variety of media used with microlearning, and short lessons, support the process of integrating knowledge from short-term to long-term memory, improving retention rates.
In one study with primary school students, microlearning led to an 18 percent increase in efficiency when compared to traditional methods.
Benefits of microlearning
Although a relatively new method, microlearning already has a wealth of research to demonstrate its benefits. That’s due to its basis in cognitive science, which explores the role of the brain during learning processes, and the ways to optimize information retention.
One of the biggest neuroscientific “hacks” of microlearning is making most of the “spacing effect,” which has been shown to boost memory retention, ahead of cramming masses of information all at once.
Away from the scientific benefits, microlearning has multiple benefits for those looking to boost their knowledge or learn new skills:
There’s a difference between learning a language to become fluent when arriving in a new country, and spending free time using a language app in preparation for a vacation. Getting to grips with certain areas of study can be immensely time-consuming, but with microlearning, you’re able to absorb key concepts much quicker.
Ease of access
Gone are the days of having to access a physical library, borrow books, and spend time searching index pages to find relevant information. Microlearning is accessible and information is easy to find. Plus, many modern courses are made by experts who know what concepts to distill, meaning a lot of the hard work has been done for you.
Microlearning is incredibly versatile — because learning in digital format, you can learn on your mobile device.
And the nature of short-term content means it’s easy to spend a couple of minutes learning something new in a brief video or app while on the daily commute, or waiting at the dentist, or on a lunch break.
Microlearning makes the most of a diverse wealth of tools, rather than long strings of text, or a traditional lecture format. With imagery, animations, and interactive elements, the overall process of learning becomes more fun and entertaining, which boosts engagement.
Enjoy a buffet of knowledge
A lot of microlearning techniques are used by employers and institutions looking to maximize engagement. But as a solo venture, microlearning is a great opportunity to test the waters and sample areas of learning, before taking a deeper dive.
Turning to another Greek philosopher, Plutarch, it’s important to remember that “the mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.” In a hyperproductive culture, it’s tempting to go all-in when learning a new subject, to fill the vessel with as much information as you can find. Unfortunately, this might lead to some form of informational burnout. Microlearning is a more patient way of kindling the fire of curiosity, which, in the long run, is more likely to keep you moving towards your goals.
Microlearning: Best practices, microlearning courses and more
There’s an important distinction between self-learning for personal interest or development, or learning for a work role or career change.
Many big companies, such as Google, provide microlearning courses where all the content is ready-made. The same applies to online courses that allow you to pick up new skills, from programming to graphic design.
Self-learning is different. You’re responsible for choosing which topics to cover, and it takes more planning and research before you begin. The below steps will provide a solid starting point in order to start microlearning on any topic of your choosing and will apply to both self-study and other forms.
1. Find your “why”
In the words of Viktor Frankl, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” This applies to all areas of life, including your education. Before scheduling or choosing topics, spend time considering why you want to study, why you want to learn. Are you looking to level up in your career? Are you looking to get more control over your life by learning productivity tools? Are you looking to increase your self-awareness?
Tapping into your emotional motivation will give you the best shot at a successful microlearning practice. After all, the days of sitting at the back of the class, zoning out, and wishing to be somewhere else are long gone. You’re in the driving seat. Where would you like the journey of learning to take you? For more information on goals, check out our blog SMART goals.
2. Explore topics and intentions
Once you find your why, you’ll start to have an idea about what you wish to study. Clarity at this stage is essential, as it will inform how you apply microlearning to piece together various pieces of the jigsaw. So, begin with an overall view of your personal education — what skills are you looking to develop? What would you like to learn?
You might end up with a list of various topics, from nutrition to languages, to depth psychology or time management.
Remember microlearning is all about digestible chunks — rather than trying to study everything at once, pick one or two key topics that you wish to commit to for a period of time.
3. Refine the niche
Once you have topics in mind, zoom in on the specifics to get the most out of microlearning practices. In my experience, over time you will begin to spot patterns and networks of content when you start to explore a topic. I’ve found this to be the case with psychology. You might start with a single person’s work — such as Abraham Maslow — which opens doors to other areas of study.
Begin, though, by getting specific. For example, productivity is a huge umbrella topic. If that’s on your list, you can further refine the topic. Are you looking for better time management? Tips on how to improve focus? Guidance on scheduling or structuring a to-do list to avoid overwhelm? The clearer you get on the specifics, the easier it is to identify which areas to study.
4. Consider your learning style: DIY or ready-made
Are you someone who feels comfortable working out your own “curriculum” by cherry-picking different topics? Or does your motivation and goal require a clear direction? Deciding your best course of action means looking at whether you’ll also be responsible for the topics you choose, and the overall direction of self-study.
If you do feel comfortable setting your own microlearning curriculum, start to piece together a list of topics to explore in your own time, either by online research of blogs or YouTube videos, or podcast episodes.
If you need something with more structure, an option is to explore online courses whether experts in the field have already curated content.
It’s worth noting that the more familiar you are with a topic, the better idea you’ll have of what you don’t know, and what areas interest you.
5. Set a schedule
The next step is to set your microlearning schedule. How will your study fit into your calendar? This will fit into the bigger picture of how you’re structuring your time. Do you have space? How many hours per week are you looking to study? At this stage, you might notice you have free time (such as a daily commute) or see the need to carve out space.
Let’s say you choose to spend three hours per week learning a new language, and two hours on productivity. That gives you five hours of microlearning per week. How you then break this down is up to you and your schedule — will you do 30 minutes or each, five days per week? Or alternate daily?
Once you have added your microlearning practice to your calendar, defend it, and honor it. And, make sure you have a plan for when you show up to learn. Know what videos, what courses, what blog posts you’ll read in that session, so you are purposeful with the time you’ve set aside.
Microlearning combines new technology, cutting-edge science, and a diverse range of content styles to make learning easy, enjoyable, and engaging. There’s never been a better time to learn.
Now you’re equipped with microlearning practices, the next step is to fill your cup from the fountain of knowledge, and drink in the wisdom, one sip at a time, without oversaturation or information overload. So what are you waiting for? Go make Socrates proud.