Thursday, March 6, 2014

From Courses to Micro-Learning

Micro-learning, micro-content, Learning Flows, and mlearning are some the current and upcoming trends in the world of learning and development. They all have a common denominator—they require very little “at-a-stretch” time commitment from learners/users.

Wikipedia describes micro-learning thus: Micro-learning can also be understood as a process of subsequent, "short" learning activities, i.e. learning through interaction with micro-content objects in small timeframes. ~ Wiki

Some of the key characteristics of micro-learning are given in the diagram below:
Click on the image to see an enlarged version

And here are some examples of micro-learning forms:

                                              Click on the image to see an enlarged version

Wikipedia also has a set of dimensions for micro-learning that I found rather useful. I have put those here for reference.
                                              Click on the image to see an enlarged version

Jane Hart has written a series of blog posts on Learning Flow which she describes as a “… continuous steady stream of social micro-learning activities – accessible from the web and mobile devices”. Here are the links to the related posts:
  1. Beyond the Course: The Learning Flow—A new framework for the social learning era
  2. The Learning Flow and the User Experience
  3. Three Types of Learning Flow
All of these are pointing to a shift that is in motion—a shift from long courses with a defined structure and curriculum that trained users on good and best practices based on the past. The “Era of Courses” reflected an age where work was stable, experience of the past could be encapsulated and translated into courses that future workers could take and be successful in their work and performance. Businesses grew and became mega-businesses. Accumulated experiences counted. The future reflected the past. And economy of scale was the order of the day.

Then came the Internet, the Big Shift, and automation. The predictable and routine work which had been the premise of training began to crumble. Routine work gave way to novel work and exceptions became the norm. And training became a specter “Wandering between two worlds, one dead, The other powerless to be born.”

In this space of uncertainty, L&D and training departments strove to remain relevant, keep up and match the speed of change. But that proved to be a failing endeavor. Training and courses as we knew it when the world of work was certain are about to leave center stage. Today, workers need bursts and nuggets of learning a.k.a. performance support. Lengthier, knowledge-driven courses will still exist but will become optional and can be taken at the workers’ discretion. Individuals will take those courses where they see personal and professional benefits—but they may not be driven by the organization where they work. This is directly evident in the MOOC phenomenon as seen on Coursera or EdX.

Learning design will have to increasingly revolve around micro-learning concepts that are device, time and location agnostic. While micro-learning can be viewed as a support to more formal and longer courses, this equation may change. Workers used to Googling to solve their queries and problems are likely to bring that same paradigm to learning. They may well expect a collection of micro-modules to be available which they will dip into as and when needed. Each worker will chart out their own path through these micro-modules based on their role, performance need and prior experience and knowledge.
 The big question is how corporates will take advantage of these trends and phenomenon that have organically grown out the changing technology landscape.

What will be the role of learning designers in this new landscape—curators and aggregators, facilitators and collaborators, connectors and change agents? It’s time for us to rethink our identity and role in the context of workplace learning and performance. 
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