Microlearning: Making it micro

Is content really king?

Laura Broad Senior Learning Designer

Microlearning: Making it micro

Everyone loves a good TED talk. They’re free, interesting and (most of the time) well delivered. Between the official conferences and independent TEDx events, there are more than 100,000 talks out there, so you’re likely to find one on any subject you can think of. It will come as no surprise, then, that TED talks are a go-to resource when we’re researching the next microlearning module at Thrive.

Not only is TED a readily-available access point for industry and subject experts, TED’s methods align with our own in one very important way: concision. This value led them to restrict talks to 18 minutes; a value which actually inspired us in our commitment to every microlearning module being under ten minutes or less. Okay TED, your free advert stops here.

Is content really king?

My background is in bespoke learning, where content usually reigns supreme. An elearning solution can (and will often) be made longer, more text-heavy and less interactive if it means all the content gets included. That might sound like a bad thing, but that’s not necessarily true. After all, clients have content they need to deliver and they’re paying to get exactly the solution they want.

Joining Thrive was a bit of a culture shock in many ways. With an off the shelf focus, the new environment of a startup, and (more specific to my role) the target of trimming down elearning content to ten minute microlearning, it was a fresh challenge. But, the more I work to this brief, the less it feels like a restriction and more like a blessing (for both me and our end users).

Let’s take a nuanced, current topic like information security. During the research phase of this microlearning module, I found myself down the deepest of internet rabbit holes, learning in copious detail how hackers use software to decode our passwords. It was my job to become a temporary SME. And SMEs love their content.

In a world without time limits, that elearning module would be about 45 minutes long. But, without a bespoke client, our focus shifts to the person we know will always interact with our solutions: the learners. Will any of them appreciate cybersecurity as much as I do? Computer says no. Can we teach them what they really need to know in an engaging ten minutes? Affirmative.

How do we do it? Well, I can’t reveal all of our trade secrets, but here’s one for each stage of the elearning design process…

Before scripting: Consistent collation

Lots of topics (especially soft skills subjects) are pretty light on right or wrong answers, so there are lots of solutions out there for fixing the same problem. I’ve worked on projects like this where the client’s solution has been to offer their learners the pick of the bunch: present them with 3-5 methods and they can choose what works best for them.

At Thrive we think differently. Thorough research will often reveal a method or two that several good sources endorse. With our ten-minute time limit in mind, we want our message to be consistent; not confusing learners with conflicting advice. It’s like Confucius might say: ‘Learner with one method always know how; learner with two methods never sure.

During scripting: Dynamic distillation

At Thrive, the script ain’t over til it’s over. Though every project has a single learning design lead, every member of the team has an investment in every module. So, right up to sign-off, we’re all working to make a script as interesting, practical and relevant to our learners as possible. This ability to commit as a team to every module might be a side-effect of Thrive’s current small size, but it’s one I hope to maintain as we grow.

After scripting: Collaborative QA

Having different perspectives is essential to making our generic off the shelf solutions feel relevant to every learner. On top of individual graphic and learning design reviews, the whole content team gets together to go through finished modules as one big, many-headed learner.

Everyone has a different level of familiarity with the course, so everyone’s input is unique. We discuss the module in detail and if we think the learning experience could be improved at all, we make the changes there and then. It takes time, but it really is worth it to help our microlearning modules be the best they can be.

Microlearning: more than just short courses

By creating short, practically-focused modules, we give our learners the freedom to learn in their own way, in the real world, in the context where the content really makes sense. And it’s not just the learners who benefit: our modules may be small in size, but this isn’t a limitation. Frankly, it gives us the freedom to experiment. We’re always pushing the limits of our in-house authoring tool Lucid, refusing to settle into the ‘content in templates’ mindset.

As attention spans get shorter, education movements like TED have stayed relevant, not by reducing their content, but by concentrating it. Like us, they’re about removing the fluff and focusing on what really matters. And that’s Thrive all over: if a learner will only remember ten minutes of learning anyway, then let’s just make ten minutes. But let’s make it the best ten minutes of their day.

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