Is It Too Early For Microlearning?


Microlearning is Here

I was playing with my five-year-old nephew a few weeks ago and he stopped in the middle of our game and said, “Hey did you know that sharks can hear a fish swimming over one mile away, and can smell one drop of blood in a million drops of water?”

“How did you know that?” I asked, thinking my sister had likely read him a book on sharks recently.

“I saw it on YouTube,” he said.  “And there are tons more videos to go!”

Since then he has called me almost every day with a new interesting fact about sharks that I had no idea about.  While I continue to learn about these freshwater fish in the more traditional way via Professor Nephew, he has no end to his discovery on the topic.  His access to short snippets of information focused on sharks allows him to learn more on exactly what he wants to know when he decides he wants to know it.

Enter, microlearning.

Microlearning is a holistic approach for skill-based learning/education which deals with relatively small learning units. It involves short-term-focused strategies especially designed for skill-based understanding/learning/education. Microlearning refers to micro-perspectives of learning, education, training and skill development and puts the learner in the driver’s seat.1

So, given the way that children are learning in today’s fast paced environment and their ability to access a smart device, what effect will microlearning have on education in the coming years? 


Affecting Designations

Prior to the birth of the internet, education meant learning from either a person or a book. Period.  Children would get up, go to school and absorb all that they could from teacher led instruction and assigned readings on various subject matters that were determined by curriculum and grade.  If you wanted to pursue a designation you would continue down the path adding a certain number of years to your formal education until finally completing the required learning and achieving a predetermined score. Looking at that paragraph now, seems like I’ve pulled an excerpt out of a history book.

A much sought-after MBA for example could take a professional up to two years to complete and cause major headaches if they were trying to juggle a full-time job or family with having to physically be in class for lectures and sessions.   Just last year, Smartly—a free, licensed MBA program that can be completed in 6 months— arrived on the scene as a quick but effective way for busy professionals to acquire managerial knowledge and skills.  The mobile application is designed with business professors from top residential MBA programs, Smartly’s proprietary curriculum combines a self-guided software approach with collaborative online case studies and group projects. It’s flexible yet structured for the modern professional.3

With learning on-the-go becoming the norm, and professionals and students alike constantly updating their personal skill set and knowledge, what value will a formal diploma have 20 years from now?  Furthermore, if the process doesn’t change, how relevant will the content truly be and who will have the time or capacity to attend? 

Does it become wiser to complete high school and then begin the path down self-learning while working in an environment suited to your career goals and move up the chain with real life experience instead?

Questioning Specialization

What impact with microlearning and its role in education play in defining what a specialist is in the future?

In the case of my nephew who will likely be able to tell me everything I ever wanted to know about sharks before his sixth birthday, what will be required for him to be considered a specialist on the topic if this interest persists for the next few years?  If he doesn’t have a formal piece of paper from an established educational institution does it make him any less knowledgeable? 

Microlearning is on its way to creating a future where kids can become experts in whatever they’d like regardless of the ability to go through a formal and in some cases very expensive education process.  Furthermore, where time and available resources required us to pick a specialization for our future before heading into a post-secondary institution, microlearning will allow individuals to become knowledgeable experts in whatever areas that they choose.

Impacting Idle Time

Microlearning’s most attractive trait is that it lends itself to multi-platform learning which in turn gives learners the ability to engage with content whenever and wherever they want.  Consider the time spent commuting to work each day with some people spending over three hours of their day on public transit.  Their mobile device transforms itself into a learning tool and people can up their skill set or knowledge on a topic turning idle time into valuable learning time.   Children navigating through YouTube or various online learning applications on their tablets while on a road trip can turn three or four hours of “are we there yet” into “Hey Mom, did you know?”


The New Generation of Workers

Consider your organization today.  Has it embraced the power and importance of microlearning or does it continue to try and steer clear, maintaining the more traditional in-class model only?  Changes in the workforce are coming quickly with Millennials already gearing up to become leaders in the workplace and Generation Z close behind.  How effective will your training be if the delivery directly contradicts their style of learning?

The task of a strong Learning Leader today has become identifying learning styles as well as finding ways to enhance training to include the expectations of a drastically changing workforce.  Microlearning is not going away anytime soon and getting a strong grasp on using it in organizations today will pave the way to easier adoption of further advancements down the road. 

Learn more about how microlearning can help your organization today.