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Why You Should Implement Microlearning in the Classroom

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Microlearning, or small, focused lessons, may have gained popularity due to eLearning, but it can be incorporated into a variety of settings, regardless of grade level or subject area. Read on for more information about microlearning and how it can be implemented in your classroom.

What is Microlearning?

Microlearning, just as it sounds, is breaking down learning into short, manageable pieces of information. Studies have shown that there is a limit to how much the brain can absorb and retain during a lesson.

You've probably already heard about microlearning by another name, chunking. Chunking is psychologist George Miller's concept that the brain can generally retain between five and nine facts before either committing them to long-term memory storage or losing them. It makes sense that these limitations would lead to shorter lessons.

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Microlearning has become increasingly popular due to eLearning and new forms of delivery, such as tablets and smartphones, and the attention-span of today's students and employees. It can be implemented in any learning environment from a traditional classroom to a virtual one, and all places in-between.

Companies are also interested in microlearning for their employees, as they can learn a new skill or fact in a short amount of time, often on their own time. This prevents companies from having to take employees off-task for all-day training. Apparently, Google even places one-page micro lessons in the restrooms of their engineering building, calling this practice 'learning on the loo'.

Regardless of the grade level or subject area you teach, microlearning can be implemented in your classroom with a few best practice guidelines.

Microlearning Best Practices

Divide Your Lessons

Microlearning, at its core, is just that - micro. Like chunking, it is limiting the amount of information that is being delivered at one time. Lessons should generally last around five minutes, but certainly no longer than ten minutes. This can be done by subdividing: Take your entire lesson and start breaking it down into smaller pieces. Instead of starting with the method you normally use to teach the information (such as one long lecture), which might not lend itself to being 'chunked', start with the topic itself. Once the topic is broken down into logical, five-minute pieces, each with an objective, the delivery method may be quite evident.

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Vary Delivery Methods

Varying the delivery methods certainly makes for more interesting microlearning. Maybe the information can be delivered in a short video or group games, and followed up with a small quiz. One of microlearning's advantages is that after the short lessons, you can assess the lesson and format and determine what worked well and what didn't, allowing you to tweak it for next time, rather than waiting to assess at the end of a multi-week learning unit.

Need inspiration on delivery methods? Check out Primer, a pilot program by Google that teaches new marketing skills in five minutes via a free app. While coding and app creation might not be in your future, consider their core principles - short activities within a five-minute lesson, easily digested, with new content rolled out often - and think how that can apply to your lesson this week.

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Connect the Pieces

If you follow the previous guideline regarding breaking down larger themes into smaller pieces, your microlearning units will already be logically connected. Determine which units fit together best for maximum student learning. Skipping around from topic to topic isn't the best way to apply microlearning.

Microlearning Pitfalls

Too Much Information

Getting adjusted to five minute lessons might take some time, especially if you are used to delivering in a longer format. Keep in mind that five minute lessons should contain five minutes worth of information, and trying to cram twenty minutes of information into a five minute lesson won't be effective, if it's even possible. It's probably good to remember both microlearning and chunking together: Five minute lessons with five to nine facts.

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Topic Hopping

As mentioned previously, hopping from topic to topic isn't going to engender overall learning. Additionally, keep in mind that you will likely have to come back to topics at some point in the future. MLevel recommends that microlearning and spacing, or revisiting a concept more than once, go together well and lead to stronger long-term memory.

Engagement

Know that regardless of the length of your lesson, it must be engaging. A boring forty-minute lecture isn't going to be any more interesting in five-minute pieces unless it varies delivery method and incorporates some student engagement.

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Recognize Limitations

Not every lesson may be suited for the microlearning format. If a topic is too complex to work with microlearning, just keep in mind the limitations of short-term memory and your audience. It may also take your students some time to adjust to multiple delivery methods and this new format of learning. Remember to close the loop by assessing the microlearning format and improving on it for future subjects and classes.

By Michelle Garrigan-Durant
February 2017
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