I was recently telling a friend about an eLearning course I designed years ago. Due to an odd and unexpected circumstance, about six months after it was launched I had to take it as a learner. Instructionally it was pretty well designed...the content was well-organized and structured, the course was interactive, the graphics were good, the programming was flawless.

But as a learner, I hated it

I still remember that course today…it was about the company’s core values. It was for the HR team and would be given to leaders and select groups of employees throughout the organization. I remember the instructional approach, the interactions, and even the screen design. But of all the things I remember about that course, the thing I remember most is the mistake I made.

My big mistake

My mistake was that I did not think about the learner. Sure, I thought about the learning but I really didn’t think about the learner. I made sure the content was well-sequenced so it would be easily understood; I made sure there were good activities for practice; I ensured the graphics supported and enhanced the instruction—all the things good instructional designers do to ensure comprehension and retention.

But in all that focus on the learning I forgot there was a real person—let’s call her Suzie—who would take this course. To make that course more effective, I needed to also think about her and her world. Truthfully, the course needed a better WIIFM (What’s In It For Me), because I forgot that Suzie needed help to see why learning about the corporate values would make her a better employee.

I also needed to think about real application of this content to her world. I shared the corporate values as an academic concept, assuming that if everyone knew the four pillars of the corporate values they would naturally see how that fit into their work.

Consider the learner’s experience

When I took the course as a learner, it felt like “busy work.” I got to the end not recognizing the importance of the four pillars, nor how they would help me. The course felt like something that I had to do to check a box in the LMS and get on with my “real work.” And it really made me realize—that’s probably how all the other people taking the course felt about it, too.

In eLearning design and development we often call our learners “users.” The only other people who use that term to describe their customers are programmers and well… uh… drug dealers. I know now to give more respect to my learners. Wherever possible, I try to focus on not just the learning but also the learner. What is their “why” for taking this course—why should they make this a priority among all the millions of other things on their to-do list? How will the practice activities be meaningful so they feel like a good use of time? How will this course feel like it speaks to ME in a fun and engaging way?

When you are learner-focused you consider what the person needs to be able to do their job, how to make it realistic to situations they face on the job, and how it will integrate in their day-to-day work. When you focus on the learning and the learner, you have a course that will have impact.

Microlearning is learner-focused

Being learner-focused is a big part of why I like to consider microlearning in my toolkit of strategies that I use as an instructional designer. Microlearning is inherently learner-focused. It’s not just about being short (although microlearning is short); it’s about using the learner’s time well and considering how it will have value for the learner. I find that when I go micro I tend to be more learner-focused than ever—how will this be meaningful to the learner, how will they use this on the job, how will it have value for them?

When you consider microlearning as one of your instructional strategies, you are looking for how to provide the greatest value to the learner within a limited amount of time. Of course you are focusing on the learning as you always have, but you’re also focusing on the learner, too.

We still see a wide variety of definitions of microlearning. For me, it’s helpful to think about the four ways microlearning is used: before longer form instruction, after longer form instruction, as stand-alone instruction, and as performance support. When you think about using shorter form content in these different ways, then you can focus on the learner—what will they need at the moment they are using your materials, and how will you provide the greatest value for them? And by so doing, you focus on both the learning and the learner.

From the editor: Become a microlearning master

At Learning Solutions 2020, in Orlando, Florida, Carla Torgerson and Sue Iannone will show designers and developers more about creating microlearning that works. Their full-day pre-conference BYOD workshop on Sunday, March 29, “Creating Effective Microlearning for Boosting and Standalone Content” will address:

  • How to create a boost learning plan for your own content
  • How to create boosting content
  • How to break your own content into bite-sized pieces for microlearning delivery
  • How to design and create a piece of standalone microlearning

Registration for Learning Solutions 2020 is required in order to register for this pre-conference workshop.

Carla, Sue, and eLearning master Alice Bumgarner will also lead two concurrent sessions, "108 - Demystifying Microlearning for the Learning Leader" and "708 -Making Bite-Sized Work: 5 Tips for Creating Effective Microlearning.” In the Learning Solutions bookstore at the Conference, check out Carla and Sue’s new book, “Designing Microlearning” from ATD Press.