Scaffolding in Microlearning

How do you incorporate scaffolding in microlearning? How is scaffolding different in microlearning than in longer formats? We have several options for scaffolding with microlearning: Microlearning as Scaffolding, Contextual Help, Repeated Practice in a Single Microlearning, and Multiple Microlearning Modules.

How do you incorporate scaffolding in microlearning? How is scaffolding different in microlearning than in longer formats?
First, let’s define scaffolding. Scaffolding is support for learners that gradually fades away until the learner can do the task without support. Think of construction: you use the scaffolding while a skyscraper is being built. When the building is complete, the scaffolding is taken down.
That raises an issue for microlearning. Scaffolding is removed over time, but microlearning doesn’t have the long time span for typical scaffolding. In a two-day course, it’s easy to create multiple opportunities for practice, each with decreasing amounts of scaffolding. In a 5 minute microlearning module, it’s harder to create multiple opportunities for practice.
We have several options for scaffolding with microlearning.

  • Microlearning as Scaffolding
  • Contextual Help
  • Repeated Practice in a Single Microlearning
  • Multiple Microlearning Modules

Microlearning as Scaffolding

Maybe you don’t need to scaffold within a microlearning module. Maybe the microlearning itself is the scaffolding. When we think about the five moments of need, this strategy works best if people are applying what they learned (and may have forgotten) or are solving problems. Microlearning is perfect for refreshers of previous training or to support troubleshooting.
For example, I recently needed to format Word handouts for a PowerPoint presentation. I used to know how to do this, but I’d forgotten where it moved in the current version of Office. I found a 90 second tutorial on YouTube and was able to finish the task. That tutorial was microlearning, and it worked as scaffolding to support my work.
How many times have you gone to YouTube to help you solve a problem? YouTube is full of microlearning. Maybe you need to watch the video the first time you troubleshoot a problem, but the next time you remember the steps without help. That’s scaffolding!

Contextual Help

Another option for scaffolding is offering contextual help within a microlearning module. For example, the Best in Show winner at the eLearning Guild’s DemoFest offered links to hints related to your current action. If you need the help, it’s one click away. If you don’t need it, you can ignore the help and continue with the practice on your own. The winning project is “Microlearning for Teaching Government Contract Basics” by Elizabeth Gusmati, Booz Allen Hamilton and Dan Keckan, Cinecraft Productions. (If you want to see this and the other DemoFest winners, the Guild is hosting a webinar on 4/19/17 sharing the winners.)

Screenshot of Duolingo app with a hint of "midnight" for the German word Mitternacht
Duolingo provides contextual help

Duolingo is an app and website for learning languages that also uses contextual help. It’s a great example of microlearning, using evidence-based practices like spaced learning, interleaved practice, and retrieval practice. You can complete a single interactive lesson in about 5 minutes.
One way Duolingo provides contextual help is by providing hints for specific words. Any underlined word can be clicked to view the translation. When I’m going through lessons, I often need the hint for new words and sometimes as a reminder. Over time, I don’t need that hint any more and I stop using the scaffolding.
Both of these examples of contextual help are pull learning, not push learning. You’re not forcing the support on everyone. You’re making it available to those who want it.

Repeated Practice in a Single Microlearning

You can create more traditional scaffolding with repeated practice within a single microlearning module, especially if your microlearning is mostly (or completely) practice rather than content delivery. Duolingo is almost entirely practice, so this is another strategy they use. For new lessons with new vocabulary, the exercises are heavily weighted toward forced choice options where you select words from a list rather than typing the whole word yourself. As you progress, you do more open-ended typing without the scaffolding of provided choices.
You could use this technique in other short practice modules by providing easier practice with forced choices at the beginning. Over the course of the module, gradually make the practice more complex and fade away the hints. This technique may be easier in a 15-20 minute module than a 3 minute module (although Duolingo proves it’s possible even with very short practice).

Multiple Microlearning Modules

A final option for scaffolding is to provide a series of microlearning modules. In the early modules, provide more scaffolding and support. In the later modules, remove the support. This is more like scaffolding in a longer training, just broken up into small modules over time instead of crammed into a single large course.

Your Ideas

How have you used scaffolding with microlearning? Do you have an idea I missed here? Let me know in the comments.
Scaffolding Image Credit: Storyblocks

8 thoughts on “Scaffolding in Microlearning

  1. Micro Learning is scaffolding of skills and learning in its own right – nothing new about it. Commonsense in training delivery which has been around for as long as I can remember.

      1. Do you see any real difference in the microlearning we’re talking about in eLearning now and how you’ve been training in classrooms for the last 4 decades? Is there anything that should be common sense but maybe people with less experience than you seem to be missing?

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