Microlearning, also called bite-sized learning or nanolearning, is rapidly being adopted by instructional designers and trainers because it enables efficient, timely and focused employee training. A principal component of microlearning is the use of microlessons that are quickly produced and shown to be highly effective in learning and development (L&D). Generally, these 15-minutes-or-less lessons are content controlled, focused on a singular, timely topic and integrated into the organizational work-based learning paradigm. Delivered synchronously or asynchronously, microlessons enable employees to learn information in short segments, often on demand and at their convenience. This is also a cost-effective approach because travel costs are eliminated. Research studies confirm microlessons spaced over time increase retention of information and help learners sustain focus, among other positive findings, given the decreasing attention span of today’s learners.
Microlesson topics are unlimited, but often are focused on organizational needs following needs analysis. Immediate or ongoing training needs may include policy updates, statutory compliance, changes in procedures and practices or how to use new or existing equipment, to mention a few. Refreshing and updating perishable knowledge and skills are expedited through the use of microlessons.
Out-of-date or inaccurate content will get the instructional designer, the trainer and the organization into trouble when errors result from incorrect information. Microlesson content must be accurate and current. Conducting a topical literature review or speaking to employees or subject matter experts about the content will add credibility to the microlesson and the instructional designer and enhance risk mitigation. Topical content must clearly and concisely explain the microlesson, including why the information is important to the learner along with expected outcomes. Adult learners need to know why the content is important to them, which enhances their willingness to learn.
Experience shows that focusing on the desired instructional outcome is critical to content design and success. Begin at the end. Identify what the learner must know, perform or achieve and then design the content so the learner can be successful. The outcome(s) must be measurable to demonstrate knowledge or skill competency. Enabling the learner to successfully complete the microlesson requires small, tightly controlled content designed to achieve the objective or outcome.
Identifying a sole objective or outcome is more difficult than it may appear. Too often, microlesson designers include too much information or have multiple outcomes or objectives that cannot be achieved via a single microlesson. Although a microlesson may have one or two goals, it usually has only one quantifiable performance (learning) objective.
Design elements often include slides, images, video, music, speaking, special effects, closed captioning and documents designed for computer reading aloud for reasonable accommodations of visually- or hearing-impaired workers. Scripts serve as a one- or two-page “lesson plan” containing the microlesson content.
Microlesson content and design work best when using evidence-based parameters such as focus, length and quantifiable learner outcomes. Content must focus on a single topic with tight content control. The most effective microlessons are designed to be between two and five minutes in length. Few will exceed 15 minutes in length depending upon the topic complexity and content.
After topic selection and identifying learner outcomes, the instructional designer must decide on the number of microlesson(s) to develop. Remember, a topic may need one or more microlessons to fully cover it (e.g., employee onboarding process). Regardless of the delivery platform, an outline must be developed that identifies content information and desired learner outcome. A storyboard can be developed to help with content flow, and for ease of rearranging content for better flow. Selection of talent may impact the script delivery and production time, costs and social equity.
Next, scripts are written for the presenter and the producer to assist with content delivery and production value. Regardless of delivery format (e.g., live, remote, including voiceover of slides, images), the script may become the equivalent of a one- or two-page lesson plan that focuses on the microlesson content. Visual images must be matched with the script for accuracy and production value.
After the script is finalized, a video recording device, such as a smartphone, webcam or other video recording hardware or software is used to record the microlesson. Recording software may include Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack or similar platforms that record audio and video. Of course, if your organization has a production studio or access to one with professional microphones or video cameras, this is ideal, but much more costly.
After recording the microlesson content, it must be reviewed for accuracy, sound quality and image quality, in addition to making sure the slides, infographics, artifacts, etc. are properly matched to what is being spoken. Post-production editing will polish and finalize the microlesson before it is uploaded or presented to learners. Recording a quality microlesson can be accomplished in approximately 15 minutes, not counting content design or post-production.
If the microlesson is being delivered in person, it is always a good practice to rehearse the presentation a few times to make sure the presenter is comfortable with the setting and the content. It is also a suitable time to review the content again for accuracy and currency.
If learners are required to take an assessment to determine subject matter competency, it must be designed. Assessment questions are limited to the content of the microlesson. Assessments must be available following classroom presentations (written, verbal and/or digital). Competency assessments help the instructional designer measure the efficacy of the microlessons.
Instructional designers, the architects of microlessons, can design and deliver content to the learners in person or virtually through many pathways such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, video, PowerPoint slides, infographics or YouTube. More than one microlesson may be presented depending upon the time limit and instructional objective.
If an organization has its own learning management system (LMS), on-demand delivery with learner accountability is often seamless. Without an internal LMS, often due to organizational size or budget constraints, on-demand content can be uploaded and hosted on YouTube, Amazon, Vimeo or similar platforms. Learner assessments can be designed using platforms that can automatically grade and store them.
Documentation is not limited to only keeping learner assessments. It also includes retaining scripts, information documents, interviews and rubrics used to develop content and assess learner outcomes, which may prove critical if employee competency is ever challenged during civil litigation, arbitration or other proceedings.
Microlessons are rapidly being adopted by organizations as a timely and cost-effective way to deliver training. They are not difficult to design, produce or deliver. Instructional designers may discover some limitations when designing microlessons to train employees in physical skills, because some skills require more comprehensive instruction and continuous practice to develop proficiency. Aside from this isolated drawback, microlessons are used in today’s fast-paced work environment as a primary mode of instruction or augmentation for existing programs to educate and train employees.
By John G. Peters, Jr., Ph.D.