You know you want to go micro, and you even have some ideas for how to isolate your content into one or more bite-sized pieces. But now what? A common misconception is that microlearning is always video—or always eLearning—but you should think more broadly.
How do you know what shorter form, right-fit content is right for your situation? Here, we’ll share the five key formats for microlearning and situations when each would be most effective.
Consider the optimal format
When we create microlearning, we generally consider five key formats in which to share our learning content:
- Text-based resources
Sometimes the optimal format choice is obvious based on your learning objective, learner, and environment. But sometimes it can be helpful to also consider the situations where each of these will work best.
Text-based microlearning resources take many forms—job aids and performance support, but even things you may think of as simple communications, like newsletters, blogs, emails, and many more.
Text-based resources are simple, which gives them particular power. You should use them when you need to get something out fast.
The ease of updating them also serves well if the content is constantly changing.
Finally, text-based resources are also important for things where the learner needs to self-pace—that is, learners may need time to linger over part of the content, and different learners could require very different amounts of time to make sense of the content.
Various lengths of eLearning modules are pervasive in the training field. Generally, they are interactive pieces of learning material that allow us to chunk and sequence content and enable interactions.
The eLearning format is great for content where you want to control the learner’s pacing; for linear content where you want to control the order in which the learner is consuming the content; or where you want to chunk the content into small pieces to express relationships or build content in a hierarchical fashion.
Of course, if you can find effective ways to make the content interactive, eLearning will be your best option for creating those interactions.
Also, if you need to track that the learner completed the learning, eLearning is often your best choice.
Videos are becoming increasingly popular because the equipment to create instructional videos is getting cheaper and more accessible. And because we all have video cameras on our phones, we’ve gotten accustomed to seeing videos that are not professionally scripted, directed, and produced.
There are four main kinds of video:
- Interview: seeing a person talk to the camera, or seeing one person interview another
- Live action: seeing actors act out a scene
- Animation: seeing illustrated characters act out a scene
- Computer simulation: seeing a mouse interacting with software screens, an app, or a website
Videos are especially powerful for showing processes or procedures, because these happen over time. For example, showing how to safely take blood from a patient is a great use of video.
In addition, video is excellent for showing emotion. For example, if you want to show how to de-escalate customers in difficult conversations, a video is absolutely the best way to go.
Video can also be used to simulate a computer screen. Software simulation videos are ubiquitous because they are so helpful—there’s nothing like watching someone click through the steps of building a pivot table in Excel to enable you to do it yourself too.
An infographic is a visual way of presenting information, often with limited text. You should think about an infographic as telling a visual story with a beginning, middle, and end. There are many different kinds of infographics; the ones that are most relevant to microlearning are:
- List: lists information about a subject
- Data or visualized numbers: provides statistics about a topic, where the number or an image representing the number is the focal point
- How-to guide: provides step-by-step instructions
- Flowchart: starts from a single point and branches, based on decisions
- Timeline: tells how something changed over time
- Comparison: compares and contrasts two items or topics
- Hierarchical: stacks information based on previous levels or steps
Infographics are particularly powerful because they are quick for the learner to consume, sometimes at a glance.
Much like text-based resources, they are particularly useful when the learner may want to skim or self-pace through the information.
Because infographics simplify information very well, they are also especially useful when the learner is particularly time crunched or needs to access the information quickly, for example, while on the phone with a customer.
If you are interested in learning more, Nayomi Chibana has a great list of infographic styles, with examples.
Podcasts are audio recordings that the trainee listens to, much like a recorded episode of a talk radio show.
They are particularly powerful in cases where the learner has a lot of idle time but is able to listen to something during that idle time. While they are not used a lot in corporate training, they make good sense in cases where employees travel between sites. For these employees, their time in the car (or “windshield time”) can be extensive. So, those who train people in these kinds of roles have created podcasts and audio files to share information, knowledge, and formal training.
Always focus on the learner
When you consider microlearning this broadly, you are able to consider all the ways you can reach your learners and all the ways you can provide value to them. So really think about what you can do to meet the learners’ needs quickly, so they can get back to work. When you focus on the learners and the situations when they are likely to consume your microlearning, you will create better solutions that meet their needs.
Become a microlearning master
Join Carla at the Microlearning Design Online Conference on September 18–19, and learn to apply these tactics to designing your microlearning. Or join both Carla and Sue at DevLearn 2019 Conference & Expo, October 23–25 in Las Vegas, to learn more about creating successful microlearning assets. For even more depth, pick up a copy of their book, What Works: Microlearning, coming out later this year from ATD Press.