If You Want Microlearning, Think About Learning Objectives

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We instructional designers are trained to think about learning objectives from the very beginning of a project, to design backwards from the outcomes we want to produce in learners, then think about the specific content and activities we want to build and deliver.

Non-educators think about this exactly backwards from us — ID project requests usually begin when somebody says “we need a training about X — I want it to be three hours long and I need it in two weeks”. As for what information will comprise the experience or how it will change learners’ behavior, that is often left unconsidered.

Other times we might be paired up with a SME who is extremely knowledgeable in a certain subject matter area, and who can go on at length about the details of that topic. These SMEs are so focused on the content itself that they also don’t think about what learning outcomes we expect to produce in the learner.

Sometimes I ask SMEs the question…
“If learners forget everything you said, what 5-7 pieces of information would you want them to walk away with?”
This is a hard question for SMEs to answer because, to them, it’s ALL important. Often I will go through their completed content asset and reverse-engineer those 5-7 key takeaways so I can add them to a Summary/Review section after they’ve consumed the content asset. This “micro learning” is really a form of creating learning objectives once the content has already been authored.

And then there’s microlearning

It’s 2024 and our stakeholders are asking us for microlearning. I mention in a different post that microlearning…

  • is a design approach, not a technology platform
  • requires ruthless copyediting to summarize large documents down to bite-size assets
  • can be achieved by breaking large texts up into smaller “atoms” of learning that can stand alone or together as a group

This learner-friendly formatting of content requires SMEs (or their faithful IDs) to engage in an editing step of the process which can only happen after the initial task of generating the content in a consumable form like text, video, or slides is done.

When I think about microlearning vs. conventional learning, I think about the difference between a 90 minute lecture video vs. a 5 minute YouTube video that is tightly focused on just one specific topic. No rambling digressions, no waiting 20 minutes before the speaker finally makes their point clear. Just the facts. Boom boom pow.

Microlearning and Learning Objectives

This whole process of condensing dense texts into microlearning is streamlined if there exists a set of learning objectives to guide our work. They help us with editing by letting us cut out any extraneous content that doesn’t achieve the objective. If it’s not essential but just a nice-to-have, it’s OUT.

When outcomes are left undefined, or when we’re asked to build a learning asset before the source content even exists in some consumable form, it makes it much harder to create microlearning (or any kind of learning experience for that matter).

The moral of the story is that we need to train our stakeholders to think in learning outcomes from the beginning of a project so we can all be aligned throughout.

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Written by

Ted Curran is a Learning Experience Designer/Developer for Autodesk. He is committed to empowering educators and learners to create transformational change through effective pedagogy and technology integration. You can follow Ted on Mastodon, LinkedIn or learn more at my 'About" page. These thoughts are my own.

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