JONATHAN KLANE, MSEd, CIH, CSP, CHMM, CIT, is the senior safety editor for Lab Manager Magazine. He is also a member of the AIHA Communication and Training Methods Committee and a PhD candidate at Arizona State University in Human and Social Dimensions of Science and Technology where he studies risk perceptions, learning, persuasion, and storytelling. Send feedback to The Synergist.
Introduction to Microlearning
Darn! I popped a button on my dress shirt. Now what? I’ve never sewn on a button, so I search online for a quick how-to. I scroll a bit, bypass the longer videos, and find a brief step-by-step with diagrams—perfect!
WHAT IS MICROLEARNING? My need for a quick how-to on sewing a button is a good example of microlearning that most of us seek out and use in our personal lives. Microlearnings are short segments that focus on a single topic and are similar to just-in-time learning, an older concept. Each microlearning often relates to and with other microlearnings (for example, calibrating a pump, collecting a personal sample, properly transporting a sample to a lab, and so on). Microlearnings typically take less than five minutes to complete, though up to 20 minutes is a useful maximum duration.
Microlearning works on a just-in-time basis and fits into hectic schedules. It also reduces cognitive load, which OEHS training can cause. Learners may be more receptive to microlearning due to its brevity because it’s easier on our cluttered brains. It also forces a focus on the most important aspects and reduces learning to a single practical topic.
There are a few things that microlearning is not. For instance, random content disguised as learning that happens to be brief wouldn’t qualify. A short learning that doesn’t stand on its own wouldn’t be microlearning, nor would something that hasn’t been designed and delivered following good adult learning principles (ALPs). A shorter segment that is part of a larger training also wouldn’t be effective microlearning just because it’s brief. An example of what isn’t microlearning is if a trainer breaks a 60-minute lesson on the history of industrial hygiene into four 15-minute segments.
An advantage of microlearning is that it is not format-specific; it can fit into any format if the learning outcome supports it.
ITS ADVANTAGES The benefits of microlearning to learners and providers are numerous and without competing disadvantages. Microlearning fits into andragogy, or adult learning, and even heutagogy, or learning that is entirely self-determined, quite well as it facilitates self-direction, exploration, and lifelong learning. It also supports several ALPs, which include applicability, need, problem-based learning, immediacy, and more. An advantage of microlearning is that it is not format-specific; it can fit into any format if the learning outcome supports it.
In addition to following ALPs, microlearning is beneficial because of its ability to fit into hectic or full schedules. It’s easy to update, fix, or change. And several individual microlearning units can be combined by a learner or an organization for a larger learning (for example, units on safety eyewear, hearing protective devices, and N95 use could fit into a comprehensive suite for personal protective equipment training).
EXAMPLES AND NEXT UP Donning and doffing gloves that could be contaminated with chemicals is a great example of what can be covered using microlearning. It’s a single, useful topic that many workers need to learn and one that others might benefit from as a quick refresher. Changing out the UV bulb in a photoionization detector might also be helpful to an IH who is in the middle of using a PID to perform screening for volatile organic compounds. Or for those who recall our original calibration tool, calibrating a personal pump with a bubble burette is a microlearning that could be offered as additional learning material. More examples of potential topics for microlearning include how to use a particle counter, how to convert parts per million to micrograms per cubic meter, or the health effects of neurotoxins.
The next column on microlearning will further explore its benefits and discuss how to do it using detailed examples.
And what about my missing button? I was able to sew it on and wore the dress shirt for my interview. Not bad for a sewing novice, thanks to microlearning.
Advances in Developing Human Resources: “The Future: Just-in-Time Learning Expectations and Potential Implications for Human Resource Development” (August 2003).
Cureus: “Using Micro-Learning on Mobile Applications to Increase Knowledge Retention and Work Performance: A Review of Literature” (August 2019).
Journal of Work-Applied Management: “A Review of the Trend of Microlearning” (December 2020).