How to ‘Design’ Microlearning

In a recent online session of our Developing Interactive eLearning program one of the participants asked a simple question,

An image of a head with cogs and gears inside, conceptualizing the microlearning going onI understand what microlearning is and the technology available to develop and deploy it but how do you design it?

How To Design Microlearning?

It seems like it should be an easy question to answer but it turns out to be more difficult than I would have thought. If you Google the phrase “how to design microlearning” you get a list of pages that yield the titles that provided my lead in to this post. Exploring the pages provided definitions of what it is, tools to use, examples and lots of best practices. But they were all focused on the mechanics of development and deployment. The starting point for most of the how-to articles was the phrase ‘you have a small chunk of content and a single objective’.

I believe the question being asked by the workshop participant was more about the first part of the instructional design cycle that identifies a need and makes an informed decision that microlearning is the best approach to providing a learning solution for the need.

This caused some colleagues and myself to think about where in our Instructional Systems Design (ISD) workflow we might make the decision to use microlearning. If you read the published resources, the discussion starts when you have identified a small chunk of content and a learning objective. Given the starting point of a small chunk of content and a single objective we know two key things. First, we have completed the Analysis phase because we have the ‘small chunk’ of content. Second, we are in the Design phase and have the Learning Outline which adds the objectives and a description of how we are going to assess achievement of the objective. Once you are at this point you can start to make use of the available online resources to help you build.

Five Reasons to Use Microlearning

In his blog Will Thalheimer provides a definition of microlearning and describes five reasons to use microlearning.

Will Thalheimer's definition of microlearning

These 5 utilization cases provide the context for the design decision we are about to make. Cases 1 thru 3 can be considered when the microlearning you are designing is part of a larger learning program or course. You can be comfortable with choosing microlearning because the larger learning program provides the information you need to position (for the learner) how the micro chunk fits into the larger learning program. This means that if the learning program is published in an LMS then there is a path to access these chunks.

Cases 4 and 5 do not have the larger learning program context and would act more like a job aid or electronic performance support. It will take additional effort from the designer to figure out how to deploy these micro chunks so they can be accessed when the learner needs them. In these cases they would have to be deployed as separate learning objects in an LMS or learning portal. The challenge with these microlearning chunks will be to provide an easy access path to them so the person with the learning need can find them.

I had posted about microlearning design in Neuroscience Part 3: Microlearning. That post provides details on how the microlearning fits into the design of a larger learning program. Once you have your microlearning chunk specified to this level of detail you can move to development. Once in development you can utilize all of the tools and resources you would typically use to develop larger learning objects.

Jim Sweezie
VP Research and Product Development