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Microlearning deals with relatively small learning units and short-term learning activities. The term is used in e-learning and related fields in the sense of learning processes in mediated environments. Microlearning is a holistic approach for skill based learning and education which deals with relatively small learning units. It involves short-term-focused strategies especially designed for skill based understanding/learning/education.
In a wide sense, microlearning can be understood as a metaphor which refers to micro aspects of a variety of learning models, concepts and processes. Hug identified "micro", "meso" and "macro" aspects of microlearning.
Depending on frames and domains of reference, micro, meso and macro aspects vary. They are relational concepts. For example, in the context of language learning, one might think of micro aspects in terms of vocabularies, phrases, sentences, and distinguish them from situations and episodes (meso aspects) and socio-cultural specifics or complex semantics (macro aspects). In a more general discourse on learning, one might differentiate between the learning of individuals, group learning or learning of organizations and the learning of generations or societies.
Furthermore, microlearning marks a transition from common models of learning towards micro perspectives on and the significance of micro dimensions in the process of learning. The microlearning approach is an emergent paradigm, so there are no hard definitions or coherent uses of the term yet.
There are several barriers to effective learning. As early as in 1956, cognitive psychologist George A. Miller of Harvard University's Department of Psychology argued that an average that the number of objects an average human can hold in short-term memory is 7 ± 2 (Miller's law). There is also a growing body of work that suggests that the human brain is actively forgetting things. One popular study, traced back to The Statistics Brain by a BBC fact checker, claimed to have found that the human attention rate has declined from 12 seconds in 2000 to only 8.25 seconds in 2015. The BBC fact checker was unable to find the actual study mentioned, cited as being from the US National Library of Medicine.
Breaking the information down into topical, bite-sized chunks helps to increase attention and promotes higher retention rates. Research shows that microlearning can result in significant increase of exam pass rates (up to 18%). The technique has also been shown to increase learner confidence with the material.
As an instructional technology, microlearning focuses on the design of microlearning activities through micro steps in digital media environments, which already is a daily reality for today's knowledge workers. These activities can be incorporated into learner's daily routines and tasks. Unlike "traditional" e-learning approaches, microlearning often tends towards push technology through push media, which reduces the cognitive load on the learners. Therefore, the selection of micro learning objects and also pace and timing of microlearning activities are of importance for didactical designs.
Microlearning has also been considered as a promising topic in work-based learning and the applications of microlearning have been widely studied in different fields. As of 2020, there were at least 476 relevant publications exploring the concept.
The technique is capable enough to address challenges associated with slow learners. This learning technique is versatile not only for skill based education but also for sustainable socioeconomic development. Without taking care of micro-perspectives in the context of learning, education, training and skill development, a skill based education cannot be imparted effectively.
Microlearning can be characterized as follows:
- Microlearning processes often derive from interaction with micro-content, which takes place either in designed (media) settings (e-learning) or in emergent micro-content structures like weblog postings or social bookmark managers on the World Wide Web.
- Microlearning can be an assumption about the time needed to solve a learning task, for example answering a question, memorizing an information item, or finding a needed resource. Learning processes that have been called "microlearning" can cover a span from few seconds (e.g. in mobile learning) up to 15 minutes or more. There is some relation to the term micro-teaching, which is an established practice in teacher education.
- Microlearning can also be understood as a process of subsequent, "short" learning activities, i.e. learning through interaction with micro-content objects in small timeframes. In this case, the design, selection, feedback and pacing of repeated or otherwise "chained" microlearning tasks comes into view.
- In a wider sense, microlearning is the way more and more people are actually doing informal learning and gaining knowledge in micro-content, micro-media or multitasking environments (microcosm), especially those that become increasingly based on Web 2.0 and wireless technologies. In this wider sense, the borders between microlearning and the complementary concept of micro-knowledge are blurring.
The following dimensions can be used to describe or design microlearning activities:
- Time: relatively short effort, operating expense, degree of time consumption, measurable time, subjective time, etc.
- Content: small or very small units, narrow topics, rather simple issues, etc.
- Curriculum: small part of curricular setting, parts of modules, elements of informal learning, etc.
- Form: fragments, facets, episodes, "knowledge nuggets", skill elements, etc.
- Process: separate, concomitant or actual, situated or integrated activities, iterative method, attention management, awareness (getting into or being in a process), etc.
- Mediality: print media, electronic media, mono-media vs. multi-media, (inter-)mediated forms, etc.
- Learning type: repetitive, activist, reflective, pragmatist, conceptualist, constructivist, connectivist, behaviorist; also: action learning, classroom learning, corporate learning, etc.
Subscription learning provides an intermittent stream of learning-related interactions to those who are subscribed. These learning-related interactions (also called "nuggets") can involve a great variety of learning-related events, including content presentation, diagnostics, scenario-based questions, job aids, reflection questions, assignments, discussions, etc. Nuggets are short, usually presented in less than five to ten minutes. Nuggets are intentionally scheduled over time to support learning, often utilizing research-based findings related to the spacing effect. Learners subscribe (or are subscribed) to one or more series of learning nuggets, called "threads". Learning threads can be predesigned, selecting nuggets based on anticipated learner needs or they can be dynamically created based on learner performance.
Examples of activities
- reading a paragraph of text, e-mail or sms
- listening to an informational (short) podcast
- watching a short video clip
- viewing a flashcard
- memorizing a word, vocabulary, definition or formula
- sorting a set of (micro-content) items by chronological order
- selecting an answer to a question
- answering questions in quizzes
- playful learning with micro-games
- composing a haiku or a short poem
- writing or drawing a reflection on just-viewed content
- rating confidence in an answer to a question
- E-mailed multiple choice quiz questions followed by short explanations and online discussion with others
- Screensavers which prompt the user to solve small series of simple tasks after a certain amount of inactivity
- Quizzes with multiple choice options on cell phones by use of sms or mobile applications (java midlets, symbian)
- Word of the day as daily RSS-feed or e-mail
- Flashcard-software for memorizing content through spaced repetition
- Short videos (2–10 minutes) either presented stand alone or in a series
- Giurgiu, Luminiţa. (2017) : https://www.researchgate.net/publication/318657319_Microlearning_an_Evolving_Elearning_Trend . Scientific Bulletin.
- Gassler, Gerhard; Hug, Theo & Glahn, Christian (2004): Integrated Micro Learning – An outline of the basic method and first results. In: Auer, Michael E. & Auer, Ursula (eds.): International Conference on Interactive Computer Aided Learning, ICL 2004, Sept. 29 – Oct. 1, 2004, Villach, Austria (CD-ROM).
- Gstrein, Silvia & Hug, Theo (2005): Integrated Micro Learning during Access Delays. A new approach to second language learning. In: Zaphiris, Panayiotis (ed.): User-centered computer assisted language learning. Hershey: Idea Group Publishing, pp. 152–175.
- Hagleitner, Wolfgang; Drexler, Arthur; Hug, Theo (2006). Evaluation of a prototypic version of Knowledge Pulse in the context of a management course. Paper presented at the Multimedia Applications in Education Conference, 2006, September 4–6, FH Joanneum, Graz, Austria.
- Hug, Theo; Lindner, Martin; Bruck, Peter A. (eds.) (2006): Microlearning: Emerging Concepts, Practices and Technologies after e-Learning. Proceedings of Microlearning 2005. Innsbruck: Innsbruck University Press, 2006.
- Weber, Charles M. (2003): Rapid Learning in High Velocity Environments. Ph.D. thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) / Cambridge (U.S.A.).
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- "Busting the Attention Span Myth". March 10, 2017. Retrieved June 7, 2021.
- Sirwan Mohammed, Gona; Wakil, Karzan; M. Nawroly, Sarkhell Sirwan (2018). "The Effectiveness of Microlearning to Improve Students' Learning Ability". International Journal of Educational Research Review (3): 35. doi:10.24331/ijere.415824. Retrieved March 28, 2021.
- McKee, Connor; Ntokos, Konstantinos (2022). "Online microlearning and student engagement in computer games higher education". Research in Learning Technology: 2680. doi:10.25304/rlt.v30.2680. Retrieved March 9, 2022.
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- Mosel, Stephan (2005): Self Directed Learning With Personal Publishing and Microcontent. Constructivist Approach and Insights for Institutional Implementations. Paper presented at the Microlearning 2005 conference, June 23–24, 2005, Innsbruck, Austria.
- Masie, Elliott (2006): Nano-Learning: Miniaturization of Design. Media Tec Publishing Newsletter
- Hug, Theo (2005): Micro Learning and Narration. Exploring possibilities of utilization of narrations and storytelling for the designing of "micro units" and didactical microlearning arrangements. Paper presented at the fourth Media in Transition conference, May 6–8, 2005, MIT, Cambridge (MA), USA.
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