Microlearning in the digital age

Updated: Mar 29

As most of those involved in the education field are aware, teachers face innumerable challenges and frustrations. Among them, a universal issue all teachers face is enabling students to retain the knowledge they gain in the classroom. Memory retention among students is an issue that transcends class and culture, and is more visible among younger students. In fact, 25% of teenagers report forgetting important details about their friends and family and that 7% of people forget their own birthdays from time to time.


This memory crisis, however, is nothing new. Across generations, memory retention has always been an issue. Fortunately, experts have found multiple ways to overcome these hurdles with "microlearning" solutions.

Microlearning in the Digital Age

The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve


The original concept of microlearning was inspired by the theory of Herman Ebbinhaus's "forgetting curve" (Fig 1).


In the mid-1880s, this German Psychologist transformed learning theory when he produced his "forgetting curve" based on a mathematical formula that dictates the rate at which our memory declines. Although there are many exceptions in the ability of students to retain large amounts of knowledge in the long term, the forgetting curve theory is still highly regarded today among those in the education field.


Based on the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve, people generally lose 80% of the knowledge they learn within a month.


Fig. 1 The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve. Source: https://www.themetalearners.com/

Traditional Microlearning

The concept of microlearning can be used to mitigate this memory loss. Microlearning is the approach of learning new information in small, spaced-out sections of time. This learning technique can help improve knowledge retention and productivity.

The results of microlearning can be seen on Ebbinghaus' Memory Retention Graph (Fig. 2). With constant review or learning materials over spaced-out periods of time, memory retention will generally maintain consistency of 100%, depending on the amount of microlearning.


Fig. 2 Typical Forgetting Curve for Newly Learned Information. Source: https://www.wranx.com/

In traditional learning, microlearning can take many forms and could be classified as almost anything. Here are some examples of different educational techniques that can be classified as "microlearning."

  • Daily pop quizzes

  • Reviewing Flashcards

  • Educational games

  • Short videos

  • Reading phrases or short paragraphs

These are all examples that most teachers have always utilized in and outside of the classroom.

Macrolearning


Microlearning has repeatedly been proven to help address the memory retention pandemic among students. However, microlearning can only be successful if paired with its foundational component: macrolearning.

In traditional education, macrolearning takes the form of courses, classrooms, and various formal education programs. For example, when a math teacher gives an in-class lesson on fractions to their students (macrolearning), the additional components (microlearning) of this lesson can include homework problems, flashcards reviews, or pop-quizzes.

With the increased digitalization of America's education system, however, our concept of microlearning is slowly changing. In virtual education, the macrolearning environment of an in-person classroom takes the form of live-stream video conferencing. While face-to-face interactions between students and teachers are the core component of education, this new platform can heighten pre-existing concentration problems among students. Students may face countless distractions at home, and many lack a designated quiet workspace.

Virtual Microlearning


Despite the challenges posed by virtual education, virtual microlearning can prove to be more beneficial than its traditional counterpart. With video conferencing technology, robust virtual features are vital to maximizing this macrolearning experience. These can include different digital whiteboard functions, breakout rooms, document collaboration technologies, and more. In terms of microlearning options for virtual classrooms, conducting class polls, taking quizzes, and screensharing short videos have never been more efficient than they are virtual.

Besides these features that supplement the virtual classroom, the digital age has given rise to many other potential microlearning methods. In this era of short attention spans, different EdTech platforms are the perfect solution for microlearning. Most notably, most digital microlearning takes the form of apps on your cellphone. These microlearning apps offer various valuable features, such as digital flashcards, short videos, presentation creating software, etc.


Here are some examples of Apps utilized for their microlearning components:

  • Quizlet: A free app that allows users to make or use pre-made digital flashcards, play matching games, and utilize other products for various subjects.

  • Pleco: A free comprehensive Chinese dictionary with definitions and sentence examples for each word.

  • Duolingo: A language learning app that teaches, tests, and tracks your progress.

  • Word of the day: A free app that teaches you one new word a day.

  • TED-ed: Produces a growing library of original short-animated videos.

  • Venngage-Infographics: This contains an extensive library of free and premium templates where students or teachers can choose to make an infographic.

  • Canva: Allows students and teachers to create presentations, social media graphics, and more.

  • Explain everything: An interactive screencasting whiteboard where teachers can create prerecorded lesson presentations.


Conclusion


A powerful, engaging, and easy to deploy tool for students, microlearning is guaranteed to improve students' classroom performance and learning retention. Microlearning has always existed, but its relevance is only increasing as education expands to the virtual world. Regardless of a virtual or in-person platform though, microlearning working in conjunction with macrolearning will always deliver results.

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