How to start with Microlearning
Shannon Tipton, queen of microlearning, explains
[Q&A]

Corjan Bast profile picture

by Corjan Bast
4 October 2018

W

 ith the rallying cry of “Help me, instead of giving me courses!” coming from the workplace, microlearning support can be easily created to help people in all aspects of their work. Ger recently sat down with Shannon Tipton, also known as the ‘queen of microlearning’. Shannon gives a short starter about what microlearning is and how to use it.

Shannon is who I could say “the queen of microlearning”.

Oh Wow! Thank you.

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So, Shannon, you use a specific definition of microlearning. So I’d like to start with that and then get deeper into it. So what is your definition?

My definition of microlearning is a short, specific burst of the right-sized content. So what that means is we’re going to try to target the content towards the problem we’re trying to solve.

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So it’s problem-oriented?

It’s definitely problem-oriented. So when you think about microlearning, I prefer to put it into the category of performance support rather than learning because we don’t really micro learn anyone really. Right? So we want to help people do their jobs to the best of their capabilities and that’s what microlearning will help them do.

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Okay. And how about the right size? Because I often hear, ‘Okay. The tech only can be a short video of a maximum of two minutes or something like that. But it seems that you have a different opinion about it’.

Yes. Yeah, I do. That’s why specifically in my definition I do not say how long it should take because you need to think about what are you trying to do with the content about the audience and about the problem you’re trying to solve. Sometimes, that’s two minutes; sometimes, it’s three minutes. That might even be five minutes. Now, I don’t recommend that you get into the 10-minute area because then that’s just a training video or something and that’s great, but it’s not really short like it should be, you know? So I would say that you need to keep it at that seven-minute mark. And actually, studies tell us that people will hang on and watch videos.

We’ll just use videos as an example. That people will watch videos for three minutes if it’s super relevant. If it’s really important to what you’re doing, people will watch upwards to seven or eight minutes, but really you’re pushing it, so you have to make sure that it really is on target.

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Okay, that makes sense. And some people say, well, microlearning is taking a longer learning journey, cutting it into pieces so that they are easy to digest. What do you think about that opinion?

Well, yeah, that’s what we would typically call chunking in the industry, right? So we chunk content into smaller pieces to manage people’s cognitive load, to help them not be so full in their brains. And we should do that. However, microlearning is not chunked learning and that is a very common misperception of the word.

So when I talk about microlearning, I’m talking about standalone pieces and this means, for example, if we were to take a video and we were to chunk it. We’ve taken our video, we chunk it into four pieces, four 15-minute pieces. Now if I’m going to watch piece number three, I need to watch pieces one and two in order for it to make sense, right? So now if we were going to do it in microlearning, what we would do is we might take that video and we might take five different pieces, but each piece would be an individual lesson so I didn’t have to watch part one in order to understand part two and I don’t have to watch part two in order to understand part three. They’re all standalone pieces.

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So, they are all addressed one specific task on one specific topic to tackle?

Yeah, correct.

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Okay. And about modality, because a video is often a nice one and an obvious one, but maybe you have better ideas on that?

Well, a video is just part of the whole equation. The other misconception, as far as microlearning is concerned, is that it has to be technology-based and that’s not necessarily true. There are a variety of modalities that we can use. Some are technology-based, for example, recorded Powerpoints, recorded webinars or audio clips.

All of those things would make for great microlearning elements, however, so is an infographic. An infographic is a great performance support tool and a microlearning helper, and so are our checklists, decision trees and wallet cards. So all of these things fit into the microlearning bucket so we don’t have to get super high-tech, if we can also go low-tech and be successful.

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And I think it also depends on the specific situation, specific context, specific task with which the modality fits best in that situation.

Absolutely. And that’s, that’s really what I mean, right-sized by the content. The content needs to drive the modality. So you think about if I were going to ask you or to tell you how to tie your shoe. So Harry, you don’t know how to tie your shoes, right? So would I tell you that or would I show you that. I would probably show you that because it’s the best way for me to get that piece of information from me to you.

So that’s the way we need to think about microlearning and content development. As you think about the content, what message are you trying to send? What are we trying to teach people? Then think about the modality that’s best suited for it. There’s no sense in creating videos that people won’t watch.

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That’s great. Thank you, Shannon.

Thank you, and thanks so much for having me.

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The interview:

Want to know more about microlearning?

Masterclass Microlearning
October 29, 2018 – Rotterdam, the Netherlands

The masterclass is relevant for every learning professional who wants to use microlearning in a meaningful and effective way.

Shannon Tipton, founder of Learning Rebels, is a skilled learning strategist with over 20 years of leadership experience. She gets ridiculously excited to work with training providers and organisations to develop learning solutions to achieve applicable business results. As author of “Disruptive Learning” Shannon frequently speaks at conferences across North America and Europe. She’s recently named in the top 100 elearning “Movers and Shakers” by eLearning Industry.