What Do You Think about Micro-Learning?

Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs.” ~Henry Ford

Micro-learning is content designed to learn in little bites. It’s meant to be swallowed quickly and digested easily. It’s a snack, not a four-course meal.

Fritos on Plate.   Proponents claim that micro-learning reflects how we learn (i.e., in chunks, on the go, on mobile platforms, and in as little time as possible) and that it leads to better outcomes.

In the world of micro-learning, courses are typically 3-7 minutes in length to reflect students’ ever-shrinking attention span. The claim is that micro-courses enable us to process and retain information better than when we’re hit with multiple facts and ideas over a longer period of time.

Do You Buy this Argument?

Or are we training ourselves to think less deeply, thoughtfully, and comprehensively?

Just by way of perspective, the average attention span when I was a kid was 20 minutes. Now it’s hovering around 8 seconds.

Let that difference sink in.

I hope you’ll chime in with your thoughts on this topic, because we should be discussing this. It’s a trend that affects not only what we know, but also how well we can think about it. I can see both sides of this fence.

Here Are the Pros

  • Information does need to be “chunked” to be processed.
  • You can absorb only 3-5 major points in half an hour, so it’s logical to think that breaking those points apart in shorter segments could make them more memorable.
  • Micro-learning and micro-courses might improve the completion rate of online courses (although you’d need to consume a lot of these “snacks” to match the content in a standard course).
  • Step-by-step tasks, mechanical processes, details without context, and tips could arguably be learned in short bursts like this. In other words, things you have to memorize more than things that you need to understand fit best in the micro-learning paradigm.

And…that’s the end of the “pros” for me.

Here Are the Cons

  • The number of subjects that micro-learning won’t work for seems to far outweigh the number of subjects that it will work for. You might learn something cool, but can you really understand philosophy, history, or physics in a sound byte?
  • How information fits in a larger context helps us to remember—and more important, to understand—that information better. Where is the room for contextualization in a mini-course? Do you create a separate micro-course for context?
  • What about connections? This is similar to contextualization in that connecting information to other, related concepts means you are bringing the material into broader perspective. That, in turn, makes it both more memorable and more meaningful through the process of association, a vital neurological component of memory. Again, would each micro-course require a separate micro-course on connections?
  • What about exploring the many details that go into fully comprehending a subject? Or are we supposed to accept that this [name the subject] is simply the way it is, so don’t worry about the details, since there isn’t time for them in a micro-course?
  • Is it truly a benefit to our society to contribute to reducing our attention span, as micro-learning surely does? Aren’t there scads of complex questions, relationships, solutions, and concepts that require deep and extensive thinking to understand and resolve?

Use Micro-Learning for Micro-Topics

In other words, I’m a fan of micro-learning only for certain micro-topics. I can see, for instance, how a series of micro-courses on photography could teach you essential techniques and tips.

On the other hand, I can also see that it would be difficult to gain appreciation for photography as art or as documentary without richer context, deeper discussion, and more connections than those brief micro-courses could allow.

Goldfish in bowlBut then, if my attention span shortens to that of the current average (less than that of a goldfish, at 9 seconds), maybe I just won’t care.

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Please send me your questions for future issues, and tune in next Friday for Issue #42 of “Everything You Need to Know to Create Outstanding Online Courses.”

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