Another dot in the blogosphere?

Under the “micro” scope

Posted on: April 23, 2015

The blog entry I shared in my month-old tweet was an interesting reflection on micro learning vs micro content.

Cynics might say that the argument was about semantics, but I disagree. Words hold meaning, meaning is born of philosophy, belief system, or mindset, and these shape behaviour.

It was important to tear down “micro learning”. At the risk of sounding like a squeaky wheel: Learning is learning; there is no micro or mega learning.

The important question is: How do we make learning happen?

There are many ways. I suggest just three design philosophies in the context of the article: Designing for 1) relevance, curiosity, or motivation, 2) learner agency and ownership, and 3) micro content.

Relevance, curiosity, or motivation. If a university offered a six-week MOOC and someone was only interested in a topic in the second week and quit shortly after, did they learn anything? If that person was interested and found some content useful, they learnt something because they wanted to.

They did not fail to “mega learn” the whole course. They did not “micro learn” the content of the second week. They learnt what was relevant to them, what they were curious about, or what they were interested in.

The question a designer needs to ask is not “How do I make this course interesting?” (which is teacher-centric) but “How do I take advantage of what learners are interested in?” (student-centric).


Learner agency and ownership. If a resource provider decided to provide short videos that taught a large, complex topic in smaller chunks and in an interesting manner, will that help students learn better?

The common saying is that you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink. A less common one might be you can try to feed someone an elephant one small piece at a time, but they might not eat.

Only when the learner thirsts or hungers for it does learning take place authentically. If not, they pretend to drink, they shuffle uneaten bits on their plates, or avoid the food and drink. If forced to imbibe, they might comply only to spit out elsewhere.

The question a designer needs to ask is “How to I leverage on or create the natural need to learn?”

Micro content. We might be tempted to assume that a large, complex topic is valuable and needs to be learnt, or we can decide that the micro contents are useful units in themselves. This is the argument for reusable learning objects: Micro content can be learnt for its own sake or be part of larger components.

This might explain the success of micro formats like edu-Twitter or short videos in YouTube. They might not be part of an official and larger curriculum, compliant to a set of standards, or address a list of desired objectives. Every educational tweet or instructional video is valuable in itself. It is left to the learners to judge its value and decide if that tidbit is enough or if they want more.

The question a designer needs to ask is “How to I create micro content that resembles LEGO bricks that stand alone or can be combined into larger wholes?” or “How to I take advantage of what is happening in social media and YouTube?”

Microscope by BWJones, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  BWJones 

There is no micro learning, only micro thinking. This is the sort of thinking that prevents instructional designers, subject matter experts, and teachers from designing and using micro content because they think that the mega complex forms makes them valuable.

It is also the sort of thinking that focuses on how to teach instead of how people learn. It takes humility to admit that teaching does not always lead to learning.

Effective resource design and teaching starts with understanding the learner and learning. It is about starting with learner relevance, curiosity, motivation, agency, and ownership. It is about going to where the learner is at.

3 Responses to "Under the “micro” scope"

CHAN Hsiao-yun 曾曉韻: RT @ashley: .@chiabinghowe It confuses the two. I shared some thoughts on “micro learning” at #edsg via


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