Traditional eLearning Vs Microlearning Vs Nano learning
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What is Microlearning?
Microlearning is learning that is delivered in brief content modules. These micro-sized chunks can be finished quickly, as and when the learner has the opportunity. Existing content is reframed into concentrated learning activities with clear objectives. Learning progresses quickly as students complete a series of these “microunits”.
At first glance, the definition of microlearning is simple. Microlearning is an approach to training characterized by brief learning modules comprising bite-sized learning activities delivered over mobile devices and designed for quick consumption. They are built in chunks, between three and ten minutes long — short enough to keep a learner’s attention focused from beginning to end. And they are served up just in time at the point of contact — exactly when and where they are needed. (Surge9, 2019)
Microlearning can be delivered in different formats: audio-visual (e.g. videos, or podcasts) text or series of texts (e.g. short blogs) or visual (poster, infographic) All of these are different and effective ways in which microlearning can be delivered to mobile users.
What is Nano Learning?
Nano learning is similar to microlearning, but the learning sessions are designed to be even smaller.
Nano learning delivers modules within 2 minutes with a focus on teaching one skill within the learning objective. They are laser-focused and attain learning objectives quickly. (Chandra,2021)
The trend for ever shorter content can be seen on social platforms. YouTube, the leader in video sharing (including a lot of “how to“ content) has over two billion monthly users, but users are turning to Tik Tok for even shorter, snappier, and arguably more nano content. YouTube videos can be half an hour or more, whilst Tik Toks average about a minute. TikTok has over a billion users already, and they are gradually asserting their dominance in the social media space.
The Difference between traditional learning and Microlearning
The main differences between traditional and micro learning is the delivery style and the length of education sessions. While many of the underlying elements of education are found in traditional learning and transferred over to microlearning spaces, microlearning keeps information and education sessions rather short. Traditional learning environments are what many think of when you go to take a course in school, get a further qualification, or need to complete company issued learning and development. This can look like face-to-face learning in a classroom or live sessions with an instructor over zoom or an LMS. Microlearning sessions can also be completed in an on-demand fashion, so when an employee has time between meetings or during the week. In traditional environments, there may be deadlines or predetermined times to attend the course sessions.
Characteristics of Micro and Nano Learning
Both micro and nano learning are designed to be delivered on mobile devices, either in “micro-moments”, when learners have downtime to partake in learning, or “in the flow of work”, to answer specific questions and queries learners have whilst completing work tasks.
Of smartphone users, 91% look up information on their smartphones while in the middle of a task. (Dawn, 2022)
The popularity of this micro style of learning has increased along with the rise of mobile devices and it also recognises the limited time modern learners have for training (some would argue it also corresponds with a decline in attention spans). Whether or not our attention spans are declining is up for debate (Kings College, 2022) but certainly, we are constantly toggling between tasks and screens as part of our daily lives.
Back in 2014, Deloitte found that the average employee already answered 110 emails per day, but couldn’t spare more than 24 minutes per week for training. That’s precisely one percent of a 40-hour workweek. The modern workplace is fundamentally incompatible with every 30-minute e-learning course. (Surge9, 2019)
In our home lives, we may quickly turn to a YouTube or Tik Tok tutorial for advice on anything on how to fix our washing machine, or how to put up a shelf, and there is no reason why we would expect less in our work lives. We want the information at the point of need, and we want it delivered in the quickest and easiest way possible.
Learning has had to adapt, which means taking a fundamentally different approach to learning design. Creating a successful micro or nano learning course goes far beyond simply chopping up existing content into ever smaller parts. The time spent designing and preparing a microlearning course will go far beyond its delivery time, being succinct takes effort, as Mark Twain is reported to have said “I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one.”
Each information section in a micro-course needs to be extremely focused and users must be kept engaged. Successful courses target users’ needs through machine learning and also have elements of gamification to keep learners in an interactive feedback loop that cements new information.
Microlearning works well when it can be focused on single learning objectives delivered in ways that engage the user. Popular apps like Duo Lingo, a language learning app, and Noom, a health and nutrition app both use a gamification approach with interactive exercises and quizzes to keep users engaged and “lessons” that can be completed in one to two minutes, both these apps also use machine learning. Noom also integrates machine learning with “real-life” coaches who are on hand to offer support and advice.
7 taps is a growing software platform that allows users to easily create microlearning courses using templates and collaborative tools. It allows users to create and deliver engaging micro-courses in 15 minutes. A microlearning approach to creating microlearning!
The prevalence of user-friendly tools to create short video and image reels works in two ways, we become used to consuming this type of content and it fits better with our busy lives, but we are also able to use these tools to easily create our own UGC (user-generated content). This gives companies the opportunity to combine corporate learning content with curated content from individuals. The best person to explain and demonstrate a task within the business is probably the person who does it every day, and with these tools they can quickly contribute content to company wide learning programs.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Micro and Nano learning
It is easy to see how micro and nano learning suits the modern learner, and done well, they can be a valuable way to keep your learners engaged and up to date with the latest developments. They can be part of an ongoing personal development plan, and because of the way they are delivered (in small chunks) learners can quickly see their progress, which in turn can keep them motivated.
Courses can be delivered in multiple modes video, audio, or text, which makes them accessible to all users and meets different learning needs. They can also offer quick refresher or reinforcement of existing knowledge or act as a “look up” in the flow of work.
Micro courses can also be delivered on a smaller budget than more involved eLearning courses, although they can still be time-consuming to develop.
Microlearning is a style of learning that suits some topics better than others, it needs to be aligned to very specific outcomes. It is useful to reinforce the knowledge that already exists, but on its own might not be enough to deliver more complex concepts. As learners take these courses in micro-moments in their day, there is a possibility that learning could become very fragmented. Also, because these courses require less in terms of time commitment, users may be less committed to the outcome.
It is also essential that your microlearning strategy reinforces and works with your long-term goals and that there is no conflict of interest. A key point is that the learning world works differently from the consumer world, where algorithms and machine learning are working to keep users locked in.
In learning, the problem is different. We don’t want people to be “addicted” to the learning platform, we want them to learn something, apply it, and then go back to work. (Bersin, 2018)
Delivering microlearning courses is not a magic bullet and it won’t, on its own, foster a learning culture in your organisation. Microlearning should be part of your learning strategy, not a standalone plan.
Implementing Micro and Nano Learning in your learning strategy
It is highly recommended that you integrate micro and nano learning as part of your learning strategy. This way of delivering learning can be effective if it is focused on very specific outcomes or used to reinforce the existing knowledge of users. It has become part of our lives, so users will “look up” information to help them with work tasks whether or not this is officially provided by their organisations learning platform. Microlearning is here, and organisations should capitalise on it by building their own micro-content.
Companies that embrace these new ways of delivering learning will reap the rewards, and it can help to build a learning culture of engaged and motivated employees who are committed to ongoing development. However, microlearning on its own is only a tool and will only be effective in an organisation if it is within the context of a wider learning strategy and supported by a leadership that puts value on personal development and skills.