LearnTrends: Microlearning

These are my live blogged notes from Janet Clarey’s LearnTrends session on Microlearning. My side comments are in italics.

Official description:

Microlearning: Beyond Learning Objects and Just-in-time Performance Support

The need and pressure to learn continually, coupled with limited time available to learn, make new digital media viable for professional development. Microlearning – the learning that results from “micro” content published in short form and limited by the software and devices used to view it – offers alternatives to traditional development methods for workers who deal with web-based information as part of their job. Let’s discuss how microlearning might address the realities of learning in a digital age.

Missed the beginning due to a phone call, but glad to actually hear Janet’s voice after all this time interacting through blogs, Facebook, etc.

What is microlearning?

  • Current context since 2002
  • No single definition
  • Specifically focusing on OTJ skills & knowledge

Single songs from CDs, Single articles from Magazines, Ringtones from single songs

From a 2008 microlearning conference “There is a need and pressure to learn continually due to rapid change in society and the economy…Knowledge gaps are widening.”

Basic goal: make learning more effective through new media

Why study microlearning? To know if it’s effective

In chat: Moderator (Tony Karrer): In some ways – we are spending more time learning – if we aren’t learning, we should examine if it’s a good use of our Knowledge Work time

Current definitions:

  • Microlearning emerges from microcontent. Microcontent is little bits of digital information in a permanent state of flux and circulation.
    It is often a single topic, limited in length,  consumed quickly,and often imited by software or device. It is the sharing of resurces.
    It relies on human-to-human interaction and interaction with Internet media.
  • “…occurring at the most minute of levels…minutes or seconds of time.” Hug & Friesen, 2009

What microlearning is not

  • What’s the difference between this and a “learning object”?
    • Learning objects are
    • in repositories
    • reusable
    • portable
    • content, not context
    • not created by the user
    • for learning/instructional purpose
  • What is Just-in-Time?
    • needs-based, point of need
    • need to know
    • training when I need it (whoever I am)
    • delivered to you
    • created by someone in advance
    • not always digital
    • instructional/educational purpose


Not all of these things are required in every microlearning example–

  • No formal teaching structure
  • situated
  • No repository (unless you view the whole web as a repository)
  • Not dependent on time or place
  • Doesn’t always help you meet a specific learning objective
  • no grades/ratings/certifications
  • Relies on peer-to-peer interaction
  • folksonomy rather than standardization
  • No leader
  • Relies on interaction with internet media

Reflects every-increasing fragmentation of info sources & info units

Focused on knowledge workers–people who use digital info in their jobs

Who doesn’t this work for?

  • not knowledge workers
  • those w/o internet tools
  • people on retail floor
  • plumbers
  • farmers Janet said this, but lots of people disagreed–farmers can be very high tech, have wifi in tractors etc.

Very few companies have strategy for social media–many say it won’t work in their culture

Lots of tools used traditionally

Now, new tools

  • conversations getting smaller
  • classes get fragmented
  • courses get shorter

New terrain

Pathway to community; you have to be embedded in the community to help

Complex communities of practice where individual identity is constructed

Do you think many people at your organization can do this kind of learning without guidance?

We are all in these communities so it’s easier for us–how do you help average knowledge workers?

Architecture & politics: architecture determines what is possible to do

Politics of institutions vs. individuals: LMS vs. PLE

In the LMS, your learner environment is observable & formalized

PLE: Individual surrounded by tools, people

Moderator (Janet Clarey): “…emancipation-through-technology underplays the dependence of these activities on on carriers, providers, division managers, infrastructures, and more. Control of these infrastructures and services presuppose a signifcant level of economic enfranchisement and social integration, and technical and communicative competency.”

Corporate learning serves multiple roles

Metaphor: organic learning vs. $1 value menu at McDonalds OK, somewhere I lost this thread–there was an analogy here but I didn’t get it


  • Research is new, minimal
  • no standard definition
  • Need to address the realities of learning in the digital age

References will be on her blog shortly


If you join several bits of microlearning together, can you make it into “normal” learning?

  • No, she doesn’t see it that way

Is this completely separate from formal learning, or is there some relationship with formal learning?

  • If you need to semi-structure it, start with a question & let people create

Two different ways of looking at microlearning: on technology side, measure frequency of instruction, ratings, # of contributions; on the social side, lots of qualitative research

Jane Bozarth: Trying to “measure” too much can jeapordize it

Jane Bozarth: Quickest way to destroy a CoP is for management to try and “harness the collective knowledge”

Discussion of Communities of Practice vs. Networks

Jane Bozarth: There is also interesting lit on perception of who “owns” knowlege. Orgs think it is theirs (ie, intellectual property), often those who share view it rather as a public good. = tension

Is there any difference in microlearning in a CoP vs. network?

So what do we do about it? What do we do to help this in organizations?

First step: build a community?

Ronny Lohuis (NL): Isn’t the first step to make people aware and than give them skills to do it themselves?

Jane Bozarth: @Ronny Lohuis  Learners don’t necessarily define themselves as “learners” or as being in the act of “learning”.

5 thoughts on “LearnTrends: Microlearning”

  1. Pingback: My History of Live Blogged Notes | Experiencing E-Learning

  2. Pingback: 2009 Review | Experiencing E-Learning

  3. It’s an interesting idea. Though microlearning may very well be perfect for a retail environment, as it allows a retail employee to train quickly between customers during downtimes. Microlearning presents problems of retention, however, as some learners may not be in the best frame of mind for retaining information.

Leave a Reply