Learning has always seemed a little bit magical. When a student learns something new, you can actually see a physical reaction: maybe they raise their heads, open their mouths, and widen their eyes. One can say there’s a sparkle there — the magical sparkle of knowledge. But neuroscientists have discovered that that spark is not magical at all; it’s a normal reaction to creating new connections in the brain.
The human brain changes continuously throughout an individual’s life — a phenomenon known as neuroplasticity — and learning greatly influences it. Each new lesson creates and strenghtens new pathways, essentially shaping your students’ brains.
Divide and conquer: microlearning
If acquiring new concepts comes with a sparkle, managing and retrieving older ones is a little more on the dark side of things (or grey, since everything is related to the grey matter). A good memory is crucial to successful learning. The newly acquired knowledge has to pass from short-term memory to long-term memory, and many factors can influence this transfer.
One of these factors is the concept of spaced repetition, pioneered by the renowned memory scientist Hermann Ebbinghaus. We seem to learn better when learning is spread out over time and reinforced repeatedly. If you give students a list of new concepts to learn, they will retain it much better if they divide and conquer each concept in a few sessions rather than memorizing them all at once.
Researchers and educators have always tried to optimize the learning process based on the realities of the learning brain. The online learning environment became the norm for most students due to the recent pandemic, so some of its characteristics also need to be considered.
By dividing learning into easily digestible nuggets of information, you increase the chances of getting that sparkle. By putting the spacing effect to good use, retention rates are increased as well. This is the basis of microlearning.
8 Benefits of using microlearning when teaching students online
Microlearning draws attention to the most important ideas that students should remember from a lesson and offers an easy way to repeat the information at certain intervals, so it won’t be forgotten. The drawbacks of short attention spans and the low absorption of new information can be counteracted with clearly explained and engaging bite-sized lessons.
Here are the main benefits of using microlearning in the online classroom:
Microlearning is learner-centric
Adding microlearning in the virtual classroom is actually a big step towards the learner-centered approach to education. Since the modules are focused on one concept only, students can sample, process, and better retain the information. No matter their age, each student gets more agency over their learning process, which contributes to increased retention rates.
Microlearning is best for the basics
I have one word for you: flashcards. Young students learn the ABCs and 123s through flashcards, and they learn these well. Any kind of cornerstone content, even that taught in higher grades, from basic concepts to entire lessons, can be successfully covered by microlearning. And students can revise that content as many times as they need, for as long as necessary.
Microlearning improves long-term retention
A key aspect of microlearning is that it enhances the long term retention of information by bringing attention to what really matters and by familiarising students with the main ideas of a lesson. The more students know about a subject before learning something extra, the faster they make connections between the main ideas.
Microlearning makes learning fun
Because microlearning modules are short, there can be all sorts of interactive and multimedia content, gamified elements, or even AR or VR apps and gear, which increase learner engagement and make learning stick. Many serious subjects can be covered and delivered memorably if there’s an aspect of fun in them.
Microlearning provides just-in-time learning experiences
The best classroom instruction delivers the right piece of information to the right student at the right time, over and over again. It’s crucial for each student to get the information they need when they need it most. This way, they’ll better remember new information and have better chances of applying that knowledge later.
Microlearning is diverse
There is no one best way to reach a learning goal. Each student comes to school with different sets of previous knowledge and expectations, and they all learn differently. Therefore, learning materials should cover different types of content and learning strategies. Microlearning can look like a short video, a game, a story, a mobile app, and so on. Educators can greatly vary the lesson format to get their point across.
Microlearning is quick to build
A more complex lesson needs a lot of resources. On the other hand, a microlearning module is easier and quicker to build, especially if educators focus on “cutting the noise” of a lesson. A central idea of one concept is enough. Microlearning requires a more straightforward format, while the ideas that need to be taught remain the same.
Microlearning supports traditional teaching
There are many types of students within a classroom, and there are many factors that can influence how they learn: an active interest in a subject, a good night’s sleep, or natural light are just a few examples. Learning is not a one-size-fits-all type of thing. Microlearning can meet the various learning needs of many students, but it can’t meet them all. Traditional face-to-face teaching, as well as the hybrid solutions many schools adopt nowadays, are fundamental.
All in all
Even though not every lesson or learning concept may be suited for the microlearning format, microlearning has a place in all types of schools and is suitable for students of all ages. The most important takeaways for teachers are breaking bigger lessons into smaller units and focusing on the main ideas of a lesson first. This way, they’ll witness many more sparkles in students’ eyes and ensure they’ll remember what they’ve learned.