Is Microlearning Minimizing Mastery?

Microlearning has been building momentum for nearly two decades. In our era of short attention spans, on-demand, cloud-centric, connected, and mobile instant getification, we see microlearning everywhere. But, has microlearning replaced macro expertise and mastery?

Microlearning is often assumed to be the act of breaking big ideas into smaller ones, but that’s not quite accurate. If it was that simple, chunking books down into digestible chapters, sections, and paragraphs would be microlearning. Instead, microlearning is a methodology of learning in short bursts that balances individual cognitive load with concept mastery to deliver more consistent outcomes from quick, meaningful experiences over time. It is more about the learning than the content being learned. That doesn’t sound too bad, does it?

Briefly, cognitive load is the effort it takes your working memory (the part of your memory dedicated to capturing recent experiences for processing) to function. Working memory, and cognitive load in turn, have limited capacity and are responsible for temporary and immediate content accessibility. Working memory is often referred to as short term memory, and, as any instructor will tell you, when it comes to teaching concept, process, and skill mastery, short term learning, while immediately tangible, is not necessarily the goal.

Microlearning balances cognitive load effectively by zooming in to create small, yet strong, learning experiences to support individual concept comprehension. Where microlearning helps learners put individual dots on a page concept by concept, macrolearning (traditional learning) zooms out and connects those dots to one another to support large scale operational and systematic skill and process mastery, and unique situational decision making and awareness across disciplines.

The traditional core of education systems and skill building is for learners to digest specific concepts in a way that is meaningful in order to maintain a functional foundation on which continuing education can be developed. Continuing education may sound more like macrolearning than microlearning, and it should. Does that mean the trend of microlearning is invalid or in direct competition with macrolearning? Absolutely not! Therein lies the crux of the micro vs. macro learning conversation. Macrolearning and microlearning aren’t two separate approaches to concept mastery, they’re actually more related than most give them credit for.

Maintaining the speed limit while driving (microlearning) does not mean that you understand or are ready for the multi-tiered experience of safe driving (macrolearning). Being an expert in a singular skill requires individual expertise and practices (microlearning), but understanding those skills in the framework of a discipline comes form understanding multiple nuanced interconnected concepts (macrolearning). Microlearning can be a piece of the macrolearning experience, and successful macrolearning can thrive when learners invest in each micro concept with depth.

eLearning experiences, self-paced courses, and even gaming are delivering the power of microlearning in challenging and delightful ways, but remember, microlearning is more about the learning experience than it is about the content being learned. If you’re interested in delivering stand alone facts or individual skill lessons, microlearning may be all you’re after, but is it all that your learners need? If they’re interested in developing a thoughtful foundation that is meaningful when applied to structures in a larger disciplinary or skills frame over time, macrolearning cannot be replaced by microlearning alone.

Whether you want to maximize individual learning on a small scale (micro) or a large scale (macro), relevant learning experiences are the key. Harness your instructional power for maximized attention and retention in ways big and small with READynamic™. Start using curated, immersive multimedia, interactive experiences, and individual learning tools that support unique cognitive load balance and concept mastery today.

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