Create Microlearning Courses For Delivery Of Mobile-Friendly, On-The-Go, Learning … For Learners With A Thirst For Knowledge, But Short Attention Spans.
As devices get smaller, so have people’s attention spans. The courses we creators produce have to match. That’s where microlearning courses come in.
A lot of people now seem to prefer online learning through video in bite-sized courses with just single-pointed outcomes. Nobody has the patience – or the money and inclination – to enrol for those 6-month $9997 courses, as often as they used to.
On a short commute, or in the midst of a busy day, when a space of 4-5 minutes is available, people may like to consume a “small but sharp” course that teaches one specific point … with a no-preamble and no-pfaff format.
At Solohacks Academy, we believe that creating microlearning courses isn’t just about cutting down the size of regular video courses. Brevity in teaching is an art by itself. The course needs to be precise, to-the-point, memorable, and deliver some instant and real value. But it still has to provide a piece of solid knowledge.
1. What is microlearning, and how are microlearning courses typically constructed?
The whole idea behind microlearning courses is to dose information or knowledge to students, so that they get the benefit of small, intensive, and transformative learning moments. The idea is the very antithesis of those long courses that first set the context of a whole conceptual lesson, before giving people the “how-to” of the topic.
Many people don’t have either the time, money, inclination, or mind space to learn those long courses anymore, and that too via the small screens of their mobiles (which have become their devices of preference). Like everything else that is “instant”, learning too is expected to be “instant”. That’s how the trend for microlearning courses has become popular.
What exactly do we mean by microlearning courses? It helps to see some examples. It always begins with a single specific learning outcome that the course wants to offer the student.
- Course: How To Change The SIM Card On Your iPhone
Duration: 3-4 minutes
Teaching method: In steps of action demonstrated
Learning outcome desired: Student must be able to change the SIM Card without having to go to an iPhone store
After course give-away: An instructographic encapsulating the steps of the course
- Course: Three Words That Make The Most Difference To Make Blog Post Titles Compelling
Duration: 3-4 minutes
Teaching method: Name the three words, explain reader psychology impacted by each one, and give examples of usage in titles
Learning outcome desired: The student must be encouraged to try out his own examples of great blog titles after the course
After course give-away: A cheat sheet of 100 headline examples to adapt and use
Notice here that you can teach both demonstration videos in 3-4 minutes, or you can teach conceptual ideas. But it always creates additional value to offer a quick giveaway (a downloadable) that sums up the key points of the course. Students love that touch.
2. What are the key points to remember when constructing microlearning courses?
Course creators often ask how small a microlearning video needs to be. Dr. Thomas Eibl, Training Media Manager for Airbus, wrote an article called “What Size is Micro?” where he says:
“The single units of a defined microlearning process have to fulfill two demands: firstly, they have to be self-explanatory and self-contained. Secondly, the units have to lead the trainee step by step towards the fulfillment of the overall learning objective.”
Notice here that he doesn’t exactly mention a time limit. It would be a good idea to first plan your desired learning outcome and then pare down to the absolute essentials in the course structure to meet that outcome. We should not count the minutes, but perhaps it would be wiser to count the steps to go through to create the desired learning outcome.
Sometimes, you may find it adequate to explain a point briefly, and the student gets value from merely listening. That would give you a really short course. At other times, you may want to show a demo … or give the student a wee bit of time to think about how he may adapt the same idea to his own business.
You may choose to give the learner a few questions to ask himself to make the idea adaptable to his own situation. That amount of time could be indeed important to give, because the learning outcome of the course demands that the student be able to adapt the advice to his problem or need.
So, ultimately, time is not the limitation in a microlearning course. Fulfilling the objective is imperative.
There are generally three other things to aim for:
- Make the microlearning course easily snackable and digestible: Don’t overwhelm the student with too much information overload, but also don’t leave unfilled gaps that leave him wondering what’s missing. Make it easy to consume the course, bite after bite in a sequence that is brief but total.
- Preferably, see if the student can be situated near the items you are talking about: For example, if you are teaching cooking enthusiasts how to chop onions fast like super-chefs, you would do well to explain in the course landing page that the student should have a chopping board, a knife, and an onion to get the most from this microlearning course. That makes the student able to try out what you are saying. As they say, “An ounce of practice is worth a ton of theory”.
- Encourage learners to share their experiences in applying the microlearning to their lives: The words of past students are invaluable to a course that’s small and to-the-point. You may get a variety of responses from students that adds user-generated content to enrich your course. For example, if you have a microlearning course on some embroidery techniques, it would embellish the course to have students sending in pictures of their attempts at following your instructions. It shortens learning when you can learn also from other people’s good examples or mistakes.
3. How do you determine a single learning objective for your course structure?
This is, by far, THE most important part of your microlearning course – how to decide on the single learning outcome for your course. If you are thinking of ideas from the top of your own head, you are doing it all wrong. Like all good instructional design, you need to see where your target audiences have real problems or needs, and fulfil those needs with your course.
For example, if you’ve got a topic in your head like, “How to create your own template for blog posts” as your course idea, you may find no demand for it. On the other hand, maybe people are looking for ready templates they can tweak and use. So a course that teaches “How to adapt a ready-made blog post template” may be the smarter choice of topic for your microlearning course.
Understanding, with acute listening, to what the audience really wants to know (versus what you think they want) is the important thing here. Unfortunately, since most microlearning courses are relatively easy to create, we have a host of marketers tempted to create a spate of courses on subjects they feel comfortable explaining, rather than what their audiences are really looking to learn.
Great instructional design principles still apply when you are creating mini-courses as they would when you are creating long courses. Here’s the rigor to follow:
- Work backward from the objective to achieve for the student: Think of the objective first and then see how the course can fulfil the objective.
- Determine the present knowledge state of the typical student: Try to see how much your average or typical student already knows on the subject, and doesn’t need to be primed on. Build upon what he knows.
- Give the student a one-sentence idea upfront of the course objective and methodology: This is important so he knows what to expect. A course starter sentence like, “We’re going to see how to select your ideal freelance outsourced writer by going through a four-step process” would be good to go with.
- Make each step of the course an actionable one: The use of verbs in your audio narrative is key. Instead of saying “Step 1: Fiverr gives you options for all kinds of freelance writers”, it’s more actionable to say, “Step 1: Go to Fiverr.com and under the category “bloggers”, put in a few keywords describing your project need”. It is about coaching people on how to practically act.
4. How do you use a rapid course creation format to create microlearning nuggets fast?
To explain simply, these tools are like Powerpoint on steroids. They enable you to customize a host of options which they provide in a ready-to-use collection … themed video sets, separate images, videos, characters, actions, quizzes, interactive games and so on. So you can create very posh interactive courses in less than no time.
Nowadays, it’s also hot to add virtual reality elements to learning, which a tool like Adobe Captivate can help you do. Besides, all your courses can not only be created FOR mobile or any device, they can even be created ON mobile or any device.
To give yourself a quick tour of what Adobe Captivate can do for creating your quick microlearning courses, see their intro video below:
You may wonder if I am plugging Adobe Captivate because I am there affiliate (but I am not). I’m just a great fan and use the software myself – a lot.
Here’s one caveat … tools like Adobe Captivate have so many options it’s easy to forget your one single-minded learning outcome you are creating a video for. So keep that in mind when you choose which elements to use for teaching, quizzes and so on. And if you are making a spate of microlearning videos, maintain your brand theme and look everywhere, consistently.
5. How do you organize and analyze your content for specific deliverable outcomes?
The first and most important concept in the structuring of microleaning content is to offer less information than more. See what is the least information you can give that teaches what you want in the shortest time.
In doing this, though, you have to understand that people have a “working memory” of 4 to 5 items (i.e. they have an ability to hold in mind only so much at a time).
So see that you offer as less information overall, as you can get away with – and also see that the student has to keep in mind no more than four of five ideas at any given time in the course.
Keep these three elements below as your priorities, as you create your script for the course:
- Script the steps of your course in an audio-and-matched-video format: See how much of every section of your course is to be said (voiceover), and how much is to be shown (as visuals). Voiceovers and visuals must augment each other, but don’t repeat in visuals exactly what is said. Also, remember the adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words”. You can say a lot less if you show more powerful and self-explanatory images.
- Separate the teaching elements from the examples to showcase: There are two ways to handle this. It’s more common to make a teaching point first, and then explain it with an example. Some course creators also do the opposite. They give an example, and then encourage the student to think about the example, and extract the lesson point from it. Both models work well.
- Use any testing elements such as quizzes to help comprehension: The idea behind inserting mini-games, interactivity or quizzes is not only to test if the student has been learning with focus. These tactics of engagement help drill the lesson down into the mind of the student – so they can – and should – be used as “comprehension drivers”.
6. What is this method of chunking content to make these small courses more digestible?
Since we are talking of digestible content, let me use a cooking analogy to explain what content chunking is, and why it is very essential in microlearning courses.
But first, what are content chunks? They are a form of grouping of the ideas in the course so that similar ideas are brought together and taught together. This helps a student learn more easily than if you were to follow a “now-this-and-now-that” kind of haphazard style.
Let me give you that cooking example. Let’s take a recipe for spice-flavored biscuits that involves four types of processes:
- Chunk 1: Ingredients to ground to a powder: Perhaps you have to grind together some delicate spices like cardamom or cinnamon to a fine powder to add to the biscuit dough.
- Chunk 2: Ingredients to be roasted and chopped: This could be a few different types of nuts to roast in a bit of oil and then chop to bits for adding into the dough.
- Chunk 3: Ingredients to be mixed into a dough: Maybe the recipe then calls for mixing of flour, butter, sugar, salt, the ground spices, and the roasted and chopped nuts, into a dough.
- Chunk 4: The final baking steps: This could be the last few steps to preheat the oven, grease the baking tray, put the biscuit dough on the tray in little rounds etc.
Notice how we’ve grouped elements that are to be acted on together into little chunks of action – e.g. grinding, roasting/chopping, dough-making, and then baking. We’ve also mentioned the chunks in an order such that the spices in the first chunk and the nuts in the second chunk can be added to the dough in the third chunk, and the fourth chunk is the final steps.
Not only are we conscious that actions that are to be done together are taught together, but we are also conscious that the overall sequence of the content chunks we follow enables the process to be less up-and-down for the student. This is how chunking of content helps.
(P.S.:I hope the biscuits I’ve described are edible too, in case you have a mind to try out this fake recipe.)
7. How can you make microlearning courses engaging, absorbing, and transformative?
Three things are imperative when you are trying to get your learners interested in taking your microlearning course. They have to feel that your course will be engaging, absorbing, and transformative – and therefore with even that 5 minutes of their time.
Most often, we course creators ask students after they’ve completed the course, if they found it engaging, absorbing, and transformative. But the really right way to approach it is that your course should promise “to be engaging, absorbing and transformative” to compel people to take it.
Building the expectation of engagement, absorption, and transformation actually helps in delivering all those three things.
Now, how do you ensure your course can make these three promises and set up expectations of value? Here is the process to follow when marketing your course, and also when starting your course (as a lead-in line).
- State the problem of the learner that the course promises to solve: If the problem is something the student can immediately identify with as an urgent or pressing problem, or one that is intriguing or elusive to solve, you’ve got the student engaged.
- State that the solution is going to be innovative and not a run-of-the-mill answer: People will not let their attention be grabbed by something that looks tired and old. They want new ideas, new approaches, new types of creative solutions to nagging problems or needs. If you can get learners’ ears perked up to the idea that your solution will be one they’ve never heard of before, they will feel ready to apply their focus and get absorbed in what you have to say.
- State how your course and its solution will change the learner: People don’t buy courses, they buy a new enlightened version of themselves. When they read the promise of your course, they must feel already 60% transformed into new versions of themselves. They must be able to visualize themselves as if they’ve acquired the knowledge or skill or answer you offer. If they can see themselves in those new shoes as new people, you’ve got them ready to be transformed.
How does this work? In your course landing page, or ad, just say “You’ve got this horrible stage-fright? You’re looking for some new trick that will banish this awful feeling? Something that will make you speak like you were born for the stage?” In a couple of sentences the learner’s engagement, absorption, and transformation-readiness is all yours – if you can deliver that promised innovative trick to conquer stage-fright.
After the course, if you ask them, “Was it engaging, absorbing, and transformative?” they will say, “Yes” if you’ve delivered. This is because they’ve been set up to expect all this – and all they need to evaluate is whether the promise made was kept.
8. Does storytelling work in microlearning courses? How must clever storytelling be used?
Storytelling works for microlearning just as effectively as it works for any long course. People love hearing stories and that’s why case-studies, examples, and other forms of historical sagas always work. But there’s a secret to storytelling that most course creators may not realize – every good story always (but, always) follows the same script. There is a hero (a protagonist) with a wretched problem. He spends a long time suffering. Suddenly insight hits him. He acquires new powers and beats the villain (i.e. the problem). He then lives happily ever after.
Take any compelling story – tales from childhood, stories from the great epics, eternal love stories, case-studies from business, examples from successful entrepreneurs – there is always the same compelling script that people want to hear a version of. They identify with the downtrodden hero and his suffering, and then wait for his “Aha!” moment, whereupon he changes into a superman and quells the beast that was troubling him, and they sigh with satisfaction when his life thereafter becomes all sweet music and roses.
Why do people never tire of the same old script, and like to hear newer and newer versions of it? Because this script is hardwired into the human psyche as the route to all success. Success is no success for us humans, without the initial hardship – and then the enlightening moment. That pivotal moment is the hope we all live for.
If you bear in mind the skeleton of this story (with an everlasting appeal for humans), it’s as easy to tell a short story as it is to elongate the story. If you were offering a long course, you’d spin out the elaborate details of the case study you want to illustrate your teaching point with. But in a microlearning course, an entire case study can be packed into a one-sentence version of the old classic script that people love.
Do it like this, for example: “Charles Goodwin, CEO of Gloster Beer Inc. was anguished for years wondering how to sell more of his beer brand, till he realized the new millennial generation was not enamored with his old-hat branding – but once he burnished that to Beer Brand 2.0, the millennials fell all over themselves to give him their money and guzzled more.”
9. What extra “attention-holding tactics” can you add to make microlearning courses?
There are three simple things you can do in microlearning courses to hold the attention of learners steady through the 5 minutes of the course:
- Use short sub-title slides when starting new content chunks: Even if the course is small, it helps people to know what comes next – and sub-titles encapsulate the ideas that are to follow.
- Use sound effects to highlight key learning points: It is researched psychology that bells are among the sounds that make people most alert. So a tiny tinkle or chime that sounds just before a key point is made is a good idea. Avoid loud clangs, though.
- At the very end use a summary slide that highlights the key learning outcome: Write and give voice to this summary as you would a tagline for a course – it must be a pithy, memorable way of remembering the outcome of the course.
In addition to making the course itself attention-holding, other forms of extra addons would be a great way to hold longer-term attention of students.
Most people take microlearning courses as a starter before they decide to delve deeper into a subject. So the kinds of things you can offer as extras to your course should include links to extra resources. You can offer links to blog posts, books, other longer courses – or related topics. As Seymour Papert, Mathematician and Artificial Intelligence Expert, says: “You can’t teach people everything they need to know. The best you can do is position them where they can find what they need to know when they need to know it.”
Microlearning courses can also offer innovative takeaways that help students keep the course learnings in their front-memory. For example, good infographics, worksheets, cheat sheets, calendars, timetables, or checklists are always welcomed. They add value to the course because they help retain the learnings longer.
10. How do you beta-test your microlearning course to see if it super-ready before launch?
Even if microlearning courses are small, there is every reason to beta-test all the core metrics for the performance of your course. These include comprehension, ease of learning, user experience (especially on small screen devices), lesson delivery format, skills of the teacher, navigational ease of the course, the fluidity of the course, and various other parameters. If you are using a tool or LMS to develop your course, most of the performance metrics should be easy to track and analyze, using in-built measurement systems within the tools.
When tracking or testing the performance of your microlearning course, keep three broad areas of measurement in mind:
- The content of the course and its front end: Content is of primary importance in any course because this is what students come to learn. The solidity of the content, length of content, quality perception of the content, and easy digestibility, are all factors you can monitor and tweak to make the content more effective. You should also pay a lot of importance to the performance of your visual content as this can often be the core that makes earning more enjoyable, experiential and user-engaging.
- The technology underpinnings of the course or its back end: Unless the tool you are using to create your course is both robust and device-responsive, the 5 minutes of your course can be a huge irritant to users. Make sure the technology is glitch-free and not too complicated for the technologically-challenged student. Especially with the interactive elements of your course, make sure everything works as perfectly as it should.
- The Call-To-Action (CTA) at the end of the course should be tracked too: Every piece of content – whether it’s a blog post or a microlearning course – must always show the learner some next steps to take. This is how you can grow your business. The Call-To-Action at the end of a microlearning course could lead the learner to some of your own site content, or to another course, or to an affiliate product you are marketing as an add-on to the course. Whatever your objective is with regard to the next steps you want your learner to take, test out thoroughly if your CTA is working to keep your customers within your ambit so you can sell more to them. Most course-creators check the performance of everything on their courses, but forget to check the performance of their CTAs (which may be where the next sales are).
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