Monday, 23 March 2015

Does Micro-learning even exist?

After another useful #pkmchat on Twitter around the topic of #microlearning and a great blog post by Tom Spilanin, I got to thinking again about the term.  If you've not picked up on one of the more recent terms out there micro-learning is all about small bite-sized chunks of learning that can fit more conveniently into the modern chaos of lives that we tend to live.  The idea being that they are very accessible and can be quickly assimilated to fit in with everything else we do.  Or is it?  Maybe Mirco-Learning is just a fancy way of taking the same content and breaking it up into a whole lot of smaller bits?  Or maybe micro-content is actually about not trying to provide all the content but acting as a guide to learning - rather than being a knowledge based 'thing' it's about provoking thought and further study in the learner?

In either case we're probably talking about micro-content more than micro-learning.  I guess the only issue with my own argument here is that all learning is a bit like that.  If someone makes a learning activity or a piece of learning content, the truth is that actually they just make content - if someone learns from it then it becomes 'learning'.  Does that mean learning itself is relative?  Yes, actually that's exactly what it means - call it a kind of quantum learning if you will, where only if learning takes place do we actually know it's learning.  Okay, so I'm waffling off topic a little here and caught up in the semantics a bit, but the point I'm trying to make is that when we make content that can be distinctly different from the learning.  The reason that's important for us in learning is that as we focus on making smaller bite-sized chunks we need to focus again that these are not the whole solution and the micro-content doesn't need to be the micro-learning in total.

You could go further still.. what if the content was micro-sized but with your short burst of information or direction someone spent several hours (or more) off following where your prompt had started?  Surely if someone spends hours or days on learning then it becomes learning rather than micro-learning?  Under the same guise if you make a large learning piece (content) like a book maybe and someone just flicks through and reads one bit or searches for a particular quote for example and then stops their 'learning' at that point is that an example of micro-learning?  The point is to call the learning micro insinuates that the learning is done in a very short amount of time rather than the content being short.  Again if you work in a closed system where the learner can only learn what you put in front of them then they would be the same thing, but that's just not the modern environment - people (rightly) question and search out beyond what they are told.

So if we replace micro-learning with micro-content does that make more sense and can we use that for learning?  Yes and yes, but at the same time we need to understand the environment and world we live in.  We are not the holders of absolute wisdom and knowledge, instead we can only ever provide part of the picture.  By that I mean sharing content in small bursts is not only fine to do but good practice, but it's not the end of the story, we should be encouraging greater interaction and learning that takes the emphasis away from the 'teacher' and on to the learner.  Micro-content is a good way of achieving that if we focus the micro bit on the challenge and the inspiration more than on the content itself.

So there you have it, clear as day I say micro-learning does exist, but it's probably not what people who produce micro-content for learning think it is.  Maybe if you read one line of this blog and got what you needed I even contribute to your micro-learning?

Disagree?  Cool, let's hear it.  I don't have the answers, these are my opinions and I not only reserve the right to change them I relish the opportunity.

Oh and by the way, yeah I think it exists...