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  • Writer's pictureRyan Panzer

Book Review - Microlearning Short And Sweet

In today's talent development circles, everyone wants "microlearning," but it seems that so few actually know what "microlearning" means!

As companies cut training hours and professional development budgets amidst a lengthening economic recession, more cash-strapped people leaders will demand more microlearning to meet employee skill development needs.

But these people leaders won't really know what they are asking for.

What is microlearning? Is it merely shorter learning? Is it the same learning in less time? Or is it the same amount of learning that's stretched out into smaller increments across a long period of time? Why has it become so popular? Does microlearning even work?

These are among the many microlearning demystification questions that Karl M. Kapp and Robyn A. Defelice set out to answer in their 2019 book, "Micorlearning Short And Sweet." Succinct and approachable, Kapp and Defelice's work is a useful survey of the microlearning landscape, one that connects this trendy buzzword to theory and research.

While their recommendations and prescriptions are ocasionally vague ("it depends" appears to be a favorite response of theirs), their work lifts microlearning from a platitude to practice, from jargon to meaningful job support.

"Microlearning Short And Sweet" rescues this rising instructional design practice from the gutter of ambiguous corporate-speak, making the book an important read for instructional designers, talent developers, and HR leaders of any organization.

Kapp and Defelice begin by tracing the origins of microlearning. While educational researchers have explored the principles of microlearning under various names for decades, the concept has only recently gained popularity within talent development circles.

Google Trends: Microlearning's 4x search volume growth since 2013

Accordingly, the book is a high-level survey of the microlearning landscape: when it's best used, how it's best designed, and even where it's least effective. The book is strongest in its warnings against microlearning mismanagement: using it as a "panacea" to the learning needs of a resource-constrained organization, or using it as a shortcut to skills development. Microlearning might be small, but it's no silver bullet. Throughout the text, Kapp and Defelice remind the reader that the time to master a skill remains constant, whether you teach that content in an eight-hour workshop (meso-learning) or 48 ten-minute simulations (micro-learning).

As an instructional designer, I was most intrigued by the book's suggestions on using microlearning to "augment" educational experiences. By strategically spacing interactive content, the instructional designer can eliminate forgetting, increase buy-in, and facilitate practice. While I took much away from this short book, my most immediate insight is to build post-workshop microlearning campaigns that combine quizzes, videos, and other pieces of digital content to reengage the learner's attention and memory after the learning event concludes. I look forward to soon deploying microlearning as a means of mitigating the "forgetting curve."

Other instructional designers may find intriguing the ideas of using microlearning to enhance buy-in around a change. In effect, microlearning can be used as a tool for change management, provided the content is high-quality, persuasive, and collaboratively produced. As we continue to navigate the pandemic with all its disruption and volatility, organizations will be forced to make major changes to their operations, mission, and vision. Microlearning can motivate learners to rally behind such changes, by communicating the need for change and by enabling team members to develop new competencies.

At times, "Microlearning Short and Sweet" wanders through unnecessary contextual detail, for example, expositions into theories of Cognitivism and Behaviorism. This tends to be the case with many well-intentioned business books. It's simply more ironic and noticeable when such contextualizing ladens a book on truncated learning techniques! And at times, the reader is left to wonder when the authors will move from the theoretical to the practical. If the book suffers from any deficiencies, it is a lack of concrete recommendations on how to immediately put microlearning to use in one's organizations. Still, the authors provide valuable tools and templates that any instructional designers and educators of any skill-level can use. The templates keep the book at a sufficient level of applicability, providing just enough urgency and transferability to retain the reader's attention.

"Microlearning Short and Sweet" is an important contribution to the field of talent development, one that invites further study, conversation, and debate as more business leaders are drawn to this increasingly popular concept.


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