Engaging Non-Traditional Students with (Mobile-Compatible) Microlearning
I teach entirely online at a university, The University of Texas at Arlington, which is in the process of expanding online learning opportunities for students, including non-traditional, diverse learners. One approach that is useful for non-traditional students is to make use of a relatively new concept called microlearning.
In contrast to long-form text and multimedia, microlearning consists of short bursts of information (microcontent), which is often followed by an opportunity to interact and retrieve information such as a short quiz or chance to post short written commentary. Further explanation and examples of how microlearning can benefit learners within your institution are described in this post.
Defining Microlearning and Microcontent
Microlearning consists of microcontent that is delivered via an electronic device, including but not limited to a mobile device, app, learning management system, computer, and/or laptop. The goal is to “chunk” learning into smaller bits of content so as not to overwhelm the learner. Advantages include decreasing cognitive load for the learner and providing versatile content items that can be reviewed and practiced by students, as needed, for just-in-time learning. Microlearning can potentially provide for more engaging digital content rather than long disengaging and tedious lectures or “walls of text” that students are less likely to read and interact with. Research suggest millennials are increasingly accessing information via technology rather than through people .
Examples of microcontent can include:
Micropodcasts: Learners can access shorter (1-5 minutes) podcasts to learn, preview content, review content, and build up background knowledge. With colleges seeking ways to reduce budget costs with remedial learning, micropodcasts and other microcontent can help build requisite background knowledge for underprepared learners.
Flipped Classroom Resources such as Video Microlectures: With trends towards moving away from lecture-style courses, students can benefit from the flipped classroom approach
Micropodcasts and/or Microlecture Videos Organized Through Topic-Focused Playlists: These could be heard or viewed sequentially, or in any order if knowledge is not sequentially organized. Students can review content as often as needed, or skip content for competencies they have already mastered.
Digital Flashcards and Practice Content Created by Faculty and/or Students Through a Mobile-Based Tool: This type of learning fosters retrieval practice whereby learners have opportunities to interact with content more often. Students can also create their own set of digital resources for review using Quizlet. Both Socrative and Quizlet have mobile apps for easy retrieval and content creation.
Benefits of Microlearning: Versatile and Flexible Content
Microlearning content can be easily created through a few user-friendly tools such as podcast creation tools, video creation tools, and interactive mobile-based quiz creation tools. Many of these are no- to low-cost tools. I created my own microlearning podcasts on my mobile device at no cost.
Students can opt in or opt out of viewing these microlearning resources. This type of flexible learning lets learners know that their time is valuable and that content is available but that they are autonomous learners who can find the information that they need to be successful in a course.
Microlearning can be embedded within the learning management system, used as a stand-alone tool (e.g., a playlist of micropodcasts), and/or linked within emails and other digital outreach tools for students. Simple nudging techniques via email can guide students towards the microcontent that will help them to be successful in mastering course content.
Microlearning can also work well with mobile devices, enhancing access to digital content. Encourage faculty to let students know about mobile apps that connect to the learning management system enterprise system your institution uses. Students can also create their own content in terms of creating brief digital artifacts. I have a learning menu of options for students to create digital microcontent. The menu of options is designed to differentiate tasks for learners who are less skilled with technology to those with more background knowledge in digital content creation.
Getting Started: Creating Engaging Content
Encourage faculty to design, script, and create their own microcontent to integrate within their courses. Additionally, microlearning can be used to support new students, transfer students, and anyone else adjusting to the higher education environment. For instance, brief “success stories” to help support transfer students could be created and made widely available on a campus website and/or social media spaces that support new students and transfer students.
Case Example: Micropodcasts for Online Teacher Education
To create more opportunities for flexible learning experiences, I have created a series of micropodcasts to be used in conjunction with my online courses for learners at the graduate and master’s level. These micropodcasts are highly focused and content-specific. They are aligned with standards related to preparing future and current PK-12 educators (my students) to enhance their skills in teaching literacy to their own young learners. Students bring a wide variety of background knowledge, therefore microlectures (podcasts) focus on both building background knowledge for students and offering links to additional resources in the transcript section.
These micropodcasts were simply prepared on my iPhone using the built-in voice memo feature and then uploaded to the cloud-based hosting site, SoundCloud. The micropodcasts are also open access, to further the outreach and access of the content.
Example of Micropodcast Channel: Dr. Peggy Semingson’s Micropodcast Channel (SoundCloud)
Example of a Micropodcast Playlist: Topic-Micropodcasts about Beginning Reading
Final Thoughts: Baby Steps and Versatile Uses for Microlearning
For a variety of reasons, some faculty may not be ready to forge ahead with microcontent creation. Consider creating a pilot project with early adopters who embrace innovation in digital pedagogies. Beyond helping students to engage and master course content, micropodcasts and videos can also be created to provide versatile and flexible learning opportunities for faculty development. An example of such a podcast series is here.
Feel free to contact me with ideas and thoughts on microlearning!
Author Perspective: Educator