Microlearning is gaining popularity in education as an alternative to the traditional 45–75-minute lecture because it better matches the neurology of learning. When we encounter new information, it starts in our working memory, which is the memory we use for immediate tasks—a bit like computer RAM. But like RAM, this memory is limited; it can hold up to only four bits of discrete information at a time. We need to engage that information in some way to move it to our long-term memory. If we just keep adding new information to it without any engagement, as in a traditional lecture, some of the old information gets pushed out to make room for the new information, and the old information is lost (Oakley & Sejnowski, 2018).
By contrast, a microlearning lesson covers only a single topic, and it normally includes an activity that moves the information to long-term memory. This frees up room for new information in the next module, thus improving learning retention.
The digital revolution has enabled microlearning through the proliferation of mobile apps that deliver lessons anytime and anywhere. For instance, Dennis Glenn (Weisburgh, 2020) created a learning module for nursing students to learn how to operate an anesthesia machine via an image with hot spots that, when clicked, describe the parts of the machine. These students can work on the module during a bus ride home or between classes and repeat it until they get all the parts down.
These apps also use realistic images, drawings, videos, and even augmented reality to give students a real-life simulation of the activity they are learning. Glenn sees these maps’ realism and interactivity as ideal for building competency in fields. This is because they allow for simulations that facilitate learning by doing. Instead of simply memorizing the parts of an anesthesia machine, students can be given exercises that require them to virtually operate the machine and get feedback as to whether they did so correctly. This allows students to integrate a variety of senses to gain a deeper and longer-lasting understanding than they do through reading content.
Another advantage of the apps is that they are designed on a game model that adds up points for achievements rather than (as in traditional assessment) subtracts points for errors. This improves motivation because students do not worry about failing in an environment where they can simply try again.
There are a variety of microlearning apps available to instructors. Articulate Storyline from TechSmith is excellent for teaching a wide range of topics. I have used it to teach faculty how to create online courses, to teach employees of a telecommunication company about new developments in the field, and to teach students how to do math using bases other than 10 (Figure 1). The system allows instructors to set up a lesson as a series of short modules that students can go through in order or by skipping around. The content can be delivered as videos, images, sounds, animation, or other media, and the instructor can choose from a variety of interactions to move the information to students’ long-term memory. Plus, the interactions can be followed by feedback that explains the correct process, which allows for immediate correction of errors. The system also allows for adaptive learning by sending students to different types of content according to their success.
Figure 1. Articulate Storyline example
But Storyline’s power comes at the cost of a fairly steep learning curve in terms of using all the functionality. Recognizing that many instructors will not need all of Storyline’ functions, TechSmith released Rise, a slimmed down version of Storyline. Rise provides a way for any instructor to quickly set up microlessons without any instructional design background. The system guides instructors through the steps of loading content, interactions, and assessments with simple menus and buttons for choosing content. In its simplicity Rise resembles Google Forms, yet it provides all the functionality most instructors will need.
Rise also has a more modern look to it than Storyline. The pages are simple and clean, and each new activity appears below the one before, allowing users to simply scroll down to go through content rather than flip around to different pages. Instructors can require students to complete activities in sequence or allow them to jump around to different activities. In Figure 2 below, Glenn has uploaded an image of an anesthesia machine and added hot spots that students click to open side boxes displaying information. These boxes can also contain videos, questions, documents, and links to outside websites. Take a look at this overview of how to create a lesson in Rise.
Figure 2. Rise image with hot spot interactions
Instructors looking to dip their toes into microlearning can start with the simpler Rise. Once they have mastered it, they can move up to Storyline if they want to add more types of interactions and motion graphics. Both can be powerful additions to an instructor’s toolbox.
Oakley, B., & Sejnowski, T. (2018). Learning how to learn. TarcherPerigree.
Weisburgh, M. (2020, March 26). Learn to create a micro learning app in under an hour Edchat Interactive [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/8V-8x9qq2Rs
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