How do you create an effective training course? Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as putting all the necessary documentation in one place and having learners read through it. Effective training needs to account for the mechanics of learning, and microlearning is an excellent way to take advantage of this.

Effective training course design is founded on an understanding of how learners acquire information and commit it to long term memory. Once you understand that process, you can utilize microlearning and learning strategies to ensure the effectiveness of your training.

What is microlearning?

Microlearning is learning that focuses on one topic or concept. Microlessons are relatively short and do not require a great deal of time to complete. When teaching complex tasks or concepts, simply space multiple microlessons over time. Each microlesson builds on the concepts presented earlier, and reinforcement exercises make sure learners see how everything fits together. To understand why microlearning is effective, we need to understand how learning happens.

Learning stages and the acquisition and consolidation of information

When learners are exposed to information for the first time, they are in the surface learning stageDuring the surface learning stage, information is acquired. Acquisition is the initial point at which the learner is exposed to information and takes it into short term memory. Once knowledge is acquired in short term memory, it must somehow move into long term memory. This happens through a process called consolidation.

Consolidation occurs when learners actively process and rehearse that information to help cement it in long term memory. This is achieved with learning reinforcement exercises based on proven learning strategies. In an effective microlearning program, each microlesson is complemented with effective reinforcement exercises to ensure consolidation of acquired information.

The second learning stage, deep learning, also begins during the consolidation phase. Deep learning occurs as acquired knowledge is applied to understand relationships and extend ideas. It involves taking individual pieces of information and combining that information to draw conclusions. In microlearning, deep learning occurs after learners encounter enough micro lessons to piece together a “bigger picture”. Deep learning also has its own set of proven learning strategies, and reinforcement exercises should be designed specifically for deep learning as well as surface learning.

Acquisition and consolidation of information, surface and deep learning – with microlearning all of this occurs through proper course design. Lessons must be delivered in a logical order for microlearning to be effective. Each lesson builds upon what came before, and sets up what comes next.

Effective training uses learning strategies

Learning strategies are often situation-specific: the learning stage dictates the learning strategy. Some strategies are best for acquisition, some are best for consolidation, and some work well for both. For surface learning acquisition – getting information into short term memory – subject matter vocabulary practice, note taking and summarization, and use of imagery are all good strategies. These are all actions that require the learner to repeat or rehearse the recently acquired information.

Consolidation of acquired information into long term memory involves two groups of learning strategies. The first group develops storage strength, the degree to which a memory is durably established or “well learned”. The second group develops retrieval strength, the degree to which a memory is accessible at any given time. Effective learning strategies include spaced practice, practice testing, rehearsal, time on task, and reviewing notes.

Present new information in each microlesson with an appropriate reinforcement exercise so the information is acquired in short term memory. A consolidation exercise should also appear in the lesson to build long term memory strength. The consolidation exercise should combine previous and current concepts. This does two things: (1) strengthens long term memory as mentioned, and (2) ties the information from individual lessons together so the learner understands the overall concept being taught.

The benefits of effective training

Knowledge sharing organizations outperform their competitors. They are more profitable, more productive, and have less turnover and absenteeism. This happens because employees of knowledge sharing organizations are more engaged and better prepared to make a difference in their organization. Microlearning is the perfect way to create a knowledge sharing organization by utilizing the underlying mechanics of learning more efficiently.