Micro Learning: A new way to provide professional development or classroom instruction?

We have all seen these great, short, and easy to follow videos that demonstrate how to craft or cook. These videos are wildly popular and they reflect a new trend in learning, Micro learning.  Micro Learning is a type of instruction that is tied to a very specific performance objective, aimed at teaching one concept, changing one behavior, or exploring one idea.

While micro learning needs to be a part of a larger instructional program, and needs to be implemented strategically, it works extremely well when participants enter a learning experience with different levels of knowledge or skills.  Micro learning is a very focused part of a curriculum and can be implemented anywhere in the learner lifecycle.  Check out this example about the Principles of STEM communication.

Micro learning in education can be implemented during the introduction (called the readiness phase) where students are introduced to the performance objective, the discovery phase where students interact with the micro learning content, or the reinforcement stage where the learner reflects on what has been learned.

Micro Learning has earned a place in corporate and business training because it can accommodate the anywhere / anytime learning and when coupled with technology, can really mean learning on the go.

My questions to consider:

  • How can we integrate these ideas in adult education and professional development?
  • Should we integrate micro learning in adult education and professional development?



As is often the case, there are other industries in which variations of micro learning exist. The gaming industry for years has had tutorial "missions" that have completely replaced any manuals to describe the hundreds of game mechanics players must learn to find success in a game. The military has very short "missions" as well: 1) here is how a gas mask works, 2) any questions?, 3) tosses tear gas grenade into class...  The Boy Scouts have had micro learning down for a number of years. If you take a moment to look through any one of the hundreds of merit badge books available you can see micro learning laid out and organized extremely well! To a lesser extent medical fields, emergency responders, and emergency communication people all have micro training available for badges or certifications within their fields. 

In each example, there is a sort of badge of accomplishment after each item. There are clearly defined goals, opportunities for question or exploration, room for failure to be a positive learning tool, and the time frame for execution varies a great deal with most of the pacing determined by the learner. So, why can these other industries do these very discrete learning experiences so well while we in education struggle? 

Big goals in education have dominated individual micro goals. For decades the push has been to get people into college. This recently has been expanded to get people into any post secondary. Only very recently has that shifted yet again to include getting people ready for the work force. That is three very different goals with each one needing quite different preparation. Yet, our systems of education treat the preparation for each as if they are all the same.  This is very evident in Mathematics. The realistic probability of someone using Pythagorean theorem or Quadratics is minimal unless the person's goal is to take the college track into a STEM field that uses that knowledge. For all of the rest of us that don't have that goal, we are still dragged through that muck while not understanding how credit cards work or how to budget our homes? Clearly, one set of goals is established and we shove everyone through them regardless of what the individual end goal may be. Our program design, requirements, and even the mandated standardized assessments all dictate that our designed expectations are more important than the individuals' goals or needs.

Most of the examples I offered are also voluntary engagements. People choose to play a game, they choose to enter the military (this choice implies a compliance or out mentality), they choose to get that next credential. Our education system has very little choice in comparison. There are mandates on which days of the week and which hours one must attend regardless of what tasks are offered that day or what experiences the individual needs or feels prepared to engage in that day. Effectively, we are chucking grenades at students every day hoping they are prepared and then getting frustrated when students show apathy and report that "...I don't think this experience is what I need....". A micro learning experience is networked together in such a way as the learner has choice about which paths or experiences are currently available at any given point. The pacing is often determined by the learner and not the designer of the activity. Most importantly, the end result directly fits the immediate goal the individual set out to achieve and that goal was part of a larger individualized goal and can be checked off their "to do" list. 

There are many books and articles out there that link video game design to education. A simple  5 step plan is offered here by Edutopia. There are many other texts out there that help teachers see just what it is about video game design that "teaches" extremely complex games to people of all ages. ` I am not sure if there are many military to educational references, but discussions with many of our adult military members about boot camp and the training that follows may be enlightening for all of us. I am just not sure our current educational models easily adapt to the liberties the military may take in it's specific training methods. Perhaps the Boy Scout's Merit Badge system is an easier model to adopt? If the BSA badge authors could sit with content people from around the country for a summer, I bet we could create one heck of an education system! 

Have others any possible examples of micro learning done up today outside education? Are there good books or resources that help bridge "real life" models that could apply to educational settings? Are there models out there that indicate we should/could change our educational settings to better accommodate the methods used in other models?

Hi All, 

I read this response with great interest. The examples used are very hands on. It seems like these seem to be more easily adaptable to the micro-learning concept. I'd love to see how we could develop a Science course built around micro-learning. Any thoughts? 

I would again look to the Boy Scouts Merit Badge Books. They have Badges for each science discipline and within each book there are product based expectations that build to a final larger project that leads to completion. By centering things around experiments with reflection pieces or around experiences that end up with products, students feel they are actually doing something as they complete each step. Additionally, it can be quite easy to see when there are errors. After all, if you mix the wrong proportions of chemicals that solution may not turn green as it was superposed to, but it did have quite a different observable reaction! 

Most activities mirror many of our lesson plan designs. Offer a question that gets us wondering how something works or why it works or what if ....? Then we dive into some background and key information we need to know. Then we are introduced to some tools we can use to test/play with concepts or hypothesis and a means of recording data we observe. We play, um , I mean we experiment taking notes. We then review our findings to compare to our hypothesis and what was known earlier to determine what we discovered and what new questions that arises. If there was not a concrete product created as part of this process, possibly we get some assessment at this point. Assuming success we branch out to other micro lessons that are related to this topic we just explored. 

Sounds like fun to me! I wonder how different types of learners would feel in this kind of system. Did any of you cringe at the thought of you or some particular student trying to do any of the above? If so, can you share what the concern is? Always good to share ideas and perspectives with others and I look forward to reading others' ideas.

Hi Alecia, 

As an expert in technology integration, do you have any personal experience with midro learning or is this something you can share more practical experiences? 

Looking forward to getting to know you. 

Kathy Tracey

Hi Kathy, in the past I have designed instructional materials to be used as micro-learning opportunities. Usually the format is a scenario or dialogue that allows the student to interact with a set of decision points. Some of the tools I recommend for micro-learning are Branchtrack and Google slides. They are both free, can be customized, and work pretty well on mobile devices.