There are various types of microlearning with some forms being considerably older or more effective than others. In this article we’ll look at what’s good and bad about all types of microlearning including costs of creation, ease of content distribution, ability to update content plus how easy it is to access the associated technology.
• Types of Microlearning: GIFs
A GIF is technically an image format that allows motion, but it’s come to mean silent, looping images of any format. They’re often more popular than video as people can load a GIF and watch it in seconds while video requires loading a separate video app or player, buffering the content and managing sound issues. GIF’s needn’t be long or high resolution but they will often require legible captions to explain what’s going. Perhaps the best examples of microlearning with GIFs are GIF recipes which show how to create a meal in very easy steps: there’s no need to rewind video with sticky hands – it will repeat in just a few seconds. There are also many educational GIFs which can quickly illustrate how things work. It’s underused in the world of L&D but it’s effective and a webpage full of them is likely to be returned to many times over. Just note to watch files sizes as while Imgur’s newer gifv format has a lower file-size it’s still fundamentally mp4 video in a different software ‘wrapper.’ If you want to make fabulous GIFs with mesmerising text overlays check out the tutorials at the High Quality GIFs subreddit.
Verdict: The world needs more GIF-based microlearning.
• Augmented reality microlearning
At the bleeding edge of microlearning is Augmented Reality (AR). A great example of what’s possible comes from Epson’s Moverio system which is primarily used by highly-skilled engineers – think overlaying virtual schematics onto jet engines. In one use case (shown below), an engineer looking to unblock complex industrial piping controls a remote camera with both hands while viewing the camera-feed on the Moverio glasses. When he needs further instructions, they are beamed from head office as an overlain microlesson on how to solve the problem (an example of just-in-time microlearning).
Ultimately, AR can be as simple as overlaying a PDF into a field of vision to completely overlaying reality and augmenting it (see Microsoft’s Hololens technology for great examples of what’s possible). The barrier to entry is plummeting with Epson’s latest headset, the Moverio BT-35E costing under US$1,000 and being compatible with any decent Android smartphone with a USB-C connection. These barriers still mean its more-suited to specialist operators and teams rather than entire workforces but they’re getting continually lower.
Verdict: Maturing quickly, AR microlearning is potentially very effective and already helping niche industries. It will proliferate as equipment and associated content increase in availability.
• Mobile-based microlearning
eLearning has boosted microlearning but it’s the near-ubiquitous proliferation of the smartphone that ‘s made it truly thrive. Distributing bite-sized, cloud-based microlessons to an entire workforce takes seconds and the portable power means effective, interactive microlearning is easily achievable. Lessons are quick and easy to produce (and update) and just-in-time etraining lessons can be sent out on demand.
Verdict: The most scalable, affordable and effective form of microlearning.
• Parallax scrolling webpages
These types of microlearning webpages utilise the parallax effect whereby background images scroll slower than foreground images. All kinds of interesting depth effects become available but ultimately web pages are brought to life. It’s frequently used by marketers to create engaging and informative content for customers. While some examples can be incredibly complex, it can also be a very simple effect to create. As such, utilising a highly-engaging, interactive webpage (which is easy to distribute) is a great way to implement microlearning. Just note: it relies on scrolling and scrolling fatigue becomes real after a while.
Verdict: Potentially cheap, cheerful and simple to distribute. Parallax scrolling webpages can be very effective.
• Video/Audio in microlearning
Video and audio media can be highly-engaging forms of knowledge transfer. They need to be partnered with reinforcement messaging plus effectiveness will largely depend on quality of content but both are integral parts of microlearning and will be for the foreseeable future. The main issues are that content creation isn’t cheap and that updating it can be an arduous and expensive process.
Verdict: Potentially highly effective but not the easiest to create or update.
Webinars are often lengthy affairs whose main issues revolve around scheduling. However, even a lengthy webinar can be made up of many, smaller microlessons and the audience can be located anywhere in the world. With many live-streaming social media sites available for free, webinars are simple to create and can convey up-to-the-minute information that even allows viewers to interact by asking questions.
Verdict: It’s quick and simple to produce live, interactive displays, but scheduling short lessons is impractical: use multiple microlessons in a single webinar.
• Virtual Reality
Even more advanced than AR, the latest VR-training allows learners to enter complex virtual environments (like Nvidia’s Holodeck) and learn a task quickly as though they were performing it for real. The most powerful interactive variants are still tethered to powerful PCs (MSI’s VR One is backpack mounted), but the more-complex abilities are continually trickling down to phones. Phone-based VR headsets are already commoditised and can be very cheap while interactive variants (like Google’s Daydream and Samsung’s Gear VR) only come at a minor premium. However, even basic video content requires large, high-resolution files which are difficult to distribute.
Verdict: perhaps the proliferation of 5G mobile internet will help lower distribution barriers of this brilliant technology, but until then it’s costly to produce, use and distribute.
• PDF microlearning
Putting lessons on PDFs was a popular, proto-eLearning way of disseminating microlessons: by having a lesson on, what is essentially one side of paper, microlessons could encompass one topic and be distributed in a just-in-time (on-demand) manner just by emailing and printing out. The problem is, that even when there are many pictures, learners are still faced with a wall of text, no interactivity and no reinforcement. Also, when enough of these microlessons are collected a learner is left with an un-microlearning-like tome – aka a textbook. On top of all this, there are version control issues where, without serious effort, old and out-dated lessons can be picked up and used by mistake. However, it’s still used in some Augmented Reality scenarios where it’s ability to be sent and opened quickly makes it useful to people who need static, reference content while performing complex tasks.
Verdict: One for the history books… almost.
• Whiteboard animation
Whiteboard animation can be a great method of imparting knowledge in an engaging way. However, content tends to work best when it’s long-form and telling a story; it’s less effective when used in a quick, instructional manner. On its own, there’s minimal potential for reinforcement and interactivity, but it’s a great when partnered with a subsequent Q&A. The main issue is that it’s expensive and time-consuming to produce and any content changes will be hard (and expensive) to update.
Verdict: A fantastic method of knowledge transfer but one that’s expensive and time consuming to create and update.
Infographics can be works of art with great examples burning their message into one’s soul. They can be large enough to comprise a whole course, or singular in their focus. Perhaps counter-intuitively, they are not too expensive to produce thanks to a depressed design market and plethora of competing designers on freelance websites, and you don’t always get what you pay for: some low-cost creators can produce excellent work. Updating infographics usually requires reconnecting with the original designer (which can cause issues) but, beyond that, so long as your infographic doesn’t resemble a wall of text and numbers with the odd image it’s a great way to implement microlearning.
Verdict: Very effective and it’s cheaper than you’d think to produce great content.
If you’d like more information about using various types of microlearning to train your workers or educate large, (potentially disparately-located) groups, get in touch with Ed Microlearning to learn more.