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Life has a way of ... getting in the way.

Life has a way of getting in the way … like, always. By the end of a day, I feel wiped out and my little brain craves simple and easy. It’s safe to say sitting through a 2-hour online course isn’t at the top of my list (at any point in the day). Like a pile of unfinished ironing, CPD (Continuing Professional Development) courses haunt our days and night – lurking, judging and refusing to go away. You know you have to do it, but just the thought of it is enough to make you break out in a sweat. You’re probably like me, I log in, sit through the first 15 minutes and (usually) I realise it’s yet another rambling, hard to follow, presentation by a subject matter expert who clearly hasn’t got a Scooby* how to teach. So, I click mute, put the cat in my seat (got to fool those activity sensors), head to the kitchen and let it play out while I enjoy a cheeky G&T. Box checked. CPD record updated. Nothing learned.
Even if my brain was ‘normal’ – which is isn’t – I would struggle to learn anything when it’s presented in a traditional format. One of the overriding missions of our Academy is to make learning work for tired, overstretched people. Better yet, let’s make sure people not only get through the course (without the help of a family pet) but they actually retain the knowledge and can take it into their workplace and apply it. And so, microlearning became the standard to which every ALA course is developed. But, what is it and why does it address the problems with learning that traditional methods can’t resolve? Micro-Learning: power learning for the real world.

Micro-learning has gained increasing popularity in recent years as a learning approach that promises more efficient and effective outcomes, especially in an age dominated by the rapid influx of information. But is there a scientific foundation to these claims? Micro-learning, as the name implies, refers to the process of learning through small, well-planned units or chunks. These short bursts of content typically range from a few seconds to about 15 minutes (max). The focus is on delivering concise lessons that target specific skills or knowledge areas, using multiple media types to enhance retention.

Traditional Learning vs. Micro-learning


Duration and Content Volume:

Traditional Learning:
Generally longer sessions, which can range from one hour to several hours, encompassing broader topics.
Micro-Learning:
Short bursts of 3-5 minutes focused on a single, specific objective or concept (with sessions of no more than 15 minutes total).

Delivery Method:

Traditional Learning:
Often classroom-based or lengthy online modules.
Micro-Learning:
Predominantly digital, leveraging videos, quizzes, infographics, and other interactive formats to aid memory formation.

Flexibility:

Traditional Learning: Fixed schedule, often requires dedicated time blocks.
Micro-Learning:
Highly flexible, can be consumed anywhere, anytime, ideal for mobile and remote working (and fitting it in around your life).

Engagement and Retention:

Traditional Learning:
Engagement can be challenging due to lengthy sessions. Retention can be compromised due to cognitive overload.
Micro-Learning:
Higher engagement due to short, varied formats. Potential for better retention due to frequent reinforcement.

Application:

Traditional Learning:
Theoretical, with application sessions post-learning.
Micro-Learning:
Often intertwined with real-time application, facilitating immediate practice.

Scientific Foundations of Micro-learning

Several scientific studies and theories provide a foundation for the efficacy of micro-learning:

Working Memory Capacity:
George Miller's seminal paper, "The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two," argues that the human working memory can hold only about seven chunks of information at once. Micro-learning aligns with this limitation, ensuring that learners are not overwhelmed.

Cognitive Load Theory:
Developed by John Sweller, this theory posits that learners have a finite amount of mental effort they can expend during learning. Overloading this capacity can impede comprehension and retention. Micro-learning minimizes extraneous cognitive load, enabling more efficient processing of information.

Spacing Effect:
Ebbinghaus's curve of forgetting highlights how information retention declines over time. However, revisiting and revising the information at spaced intervals (a foundation of micro-learning) can lead to better long-term memory retention.

Highlighting Research Programs focused on Micro-learning


Several major research programs have explored the effectiveness of micro-learning:

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT):
Research at MIT's Media Lab explored the effectiveness of micro-learning modules in professional training contexts. The results revealed that participants who engaged in micro-learning were more likely to apply their knowledge promptly and showed better retention than those in traditional training sessions.

University of California, Irvine:
Researchers examined the use of micro-learning in medical education, particularly for surgical training. The findings suggested that micro-learning modules significantly improved skill acquisition and retention among medical students.

European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction (EARLI)
: A study focused on the integration of micro-learning in corporate settings. The research indicated that employees who used micro-learning platforms were more engaged and demonstrated better task performance.

Conclusion


Micro-learning isn't just a buzzword; it's grounded in cognitive science and pedagogical research. As the demands of the modern world evolve, learning strategies must adapt. Micro-learning offers a compelling alternative to traditional methods, promising efficiency, engagement, and effectiveness in a fast-paced digital age. As with all instructional methods, its effectiveness will depend on its implementation and context, but the scientific foundation for its potential is robust.

Not many things in life are certain, except one thing … life gets in the way.

We all need to keep learning, but traditional learning just doesn’t fit the way we think, or live. Our brains struggle at the best of times and life doesn’t care what you want to focus on. Add a dash of neurodiversity into the mix and people with unusual brains – like myself – struggle. Microlearning levels the playing field, to some extent, allowing people like me to keep pace with learning and remember what I’ve learned. All ALA courses are developed around the microlearning modality. Our tutors bring their skills and knowledge, and we transform them into powerful courses that seriously kick-ass.

* 'Scooby' Cockney Rhyming Slang. Scooby Doo = Clue : ) 
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