Learner engagement is the ultimate test of an L&D professionals’ ability to design, produce and deliver eLearning successfully. However, “success” isn’t just a measure of how many learners enrolled or completed the course but is also a function of the level of commitment and engagement displayed during the course. Unfortunately, traditional course content, like lengthy PowerPoint decks, 10-thousand-word text descriptions, and hours-long audio is no longer conducive to engagement.
So, what’s the alternative? Microcontent!
What is Micro-Learning Content?
As the name suggests, micro-content is learning content that’s smaller in size and scope than its lengthier peer. Typically, traditional eLearning modules run anywhere between 30-minutes and an hour. During that time, it’s hard for L&D professionals to assure they have the learner’s complete attention. The longer a lesson takes to complete, the greater the chances are that learners will disengage.
To address that issue, eLearning developers create micro-content. The idea is to “chunk up” the entire module, which would traditionally take an hour or more, into several smaller sub-modules. Each of these bite-sized nuggets spans between 5 to 8-minutes and delivers a sub-set of the lengthier-formatted content. Given that most learners have a limited span of attention, they’re more likely to fully engage with learning content in 8-minute intervals, as opposed to a single 60-minute course.
Why Micro Content Works?
Each learner indeed absorbs learning content differently. However, our brains aren’t designed to consume extensively long chunks of information in a single sitting. Research suggests that, at any given time, our brains can hold no more than 7 to 10 facts in the short term. Further, research also suggests that we can only “…store a limited number of “items” or “chunks” of information”.
Content delivered in a few minute increments, as opposed to hours-long doses, is easier to understand. Then, once we practice what we’ve learned, we master the subject. Given the unique characteristics of our brains, the best way to accomplish eLearning objectives is to deliver content in bite-sized “chunks”. That’s what microlearning is all about, and that’s why it works.
Another reason why microlearning works is because today’s learners are extremely busy doing “real work” to take time off to learn. But, if there’s a way that they can learn gradually, in small increments, they’ll readily embrace it and engage with the course.
How to Leverage Micro-Learning Content?
Before we talk about how-to, let’s take a moment to underscore how not to! One definitive way to NOT leverage micro content successfully is to take existing content and chunk them up into shorter modules. And, another incorrect approach, to good microlearning, is to stitch together a disjoint collage of short, bite-sized content. This latter approach, of randomly presenting content that’s vaguely associated with course topics will, in fact, accelerate disengagement.
Here are ten tips and strategies to create learner engagement through micro-content:
- Keep it short: The keyword in engaging microlearning is “micro”. Regardless of what element of the course you design – core content, supplemental learning, assessments, quizzes – make sure you deliver them in bite-sized chunks. The golden rule is typically 5-to-8-minute duration. Longer than that, and you’re inviting disengagement.
- Keep it ‘light’: Even an 8-minute module may sometimes last twice that duration, triggering instant disengagement. How? If course designers pack the module with HD graphics and high-intensity video content, it can take longer to deploy and consume extensive resources. Today’s learners often use smartphones to download and consume content, and ‘heavy’ content takes a long time to download and refresh, eating into the 8-minute rule.
- Keep it focused: Design your content, albeit short and light in format, around specific learning outcomes. Content that’s overly broad in nature often distracts learners and forces them to disengage from the learning process.
- Keep it navigable: To put learner engagement high on their agenda, design an easy, simple-to-use interface that your audience can navigate comfortably. If it takes more than a minute or two to find what they’re looking for, learners will quickly disengage in frustration.
- Make it easy: Don’t overload a module, even if it’s just 5 or 8-minutes in length, with a lot of complex content. Break up overly complicated concepts into more than one module – even if it means spreading it over multiple 8-minute micro modules. The easier content is to digest, the higher engagement levels will be.
- Make it attractive: Design for ease and simplicity, but don’t forget to inject aesthetic appeal into the content. Excessively small font sizes, unaligned text and bullet-points, videos with low volumes and high noise interference, disturbing background music or sound, dazzling transition effects – these are ingredients for a recipe of disengagement.
- Design for accessibility: This means you’ll need to empower your learners to consume content any time, anywhere. Use responsive design techniques so learners can learn using any platform of their choice. Ideally, design it (for example) so they can start on a smartphone during their morning commute, continue using a tablet during lunch break, and finish on a laptop or desktop at home.
- Be discrete: The best learning engagement comes from discrete content, and not serialized or continuous lessons. Learners who know that once they invest 5 to 8-minutes on a module, they’ll learn exactly what they want to know about a topic, are easy to engage with. If, on the other hand, they need to tune in for multiple modules (like a mini soap opera!) before they learn something of substance, then they’ll likely disengage after module two or three.
- Mix it up: One sure way to disengage your learners is to bombard them with only text, text…and more text – even if it is short-form content. Instead, mix up your lessons with audio, video, simulations, gaming content, and interactive chat and collaborative sessions.
- Provide and ask for feedback: You may think that an 8-minute learning session isn’t worth including feedback. On the contrary, having a mechanism, where you can offer feedback to your audience, and encourage them to provide their own feedback to you, encourages learner engagement and participation.
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