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On the Road with Ethan Edwards: Micro Doesn’t Mean Incomplete


In "On the Road with Ethan Edwards," Ethan visits Grant's Farm in St.Louis.

Microlearning has been a trending topic in e-learning for a number of years now. Recognizing that extended, long training curricula that pull workers away from their performance demands and seek to teach all content at once have not been all that successful, training efforts have sought the benefits of shorter, more flexible, more focused, and more efficient models for e-learning.

Typically, Microlearning focuses on just one or two objectives, is often delivered in a “just-in-time” implementation strategy, and is intended to be less of an intrusion into work schedules and responsibilities of the learners.


There has been a simultaneous strong interest in the field of Mobile Learning. Mobile Learning refers to developing materials that can run fully on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. Microlearning and Mobile Learning are quite two different things, but I think their individual aims have been conflated in the minds of many designers simply because we often need to pursue both at the same time.

It seems that many Microlearning efforts succeed at presenting smaller chunks of learning, but it isn’t clear that the learning is working. Too often, the strategy to create Microlearning is to use the same approach to traditional learning but just cut stuff out. So microlearning has much shorter videos and fewer questions. Or it only delivers content, eliminating most practice (and opportunities for Feedback). Or it eliminates the custom branching that is so essential for individualizing instruction.

Just because we are making instruction "micro" doesn’t mean we still don’t need all the pieces required for learning to occur.

Microlearning still requires:

  • Interactions that Challenge and Motivate the learner
  • Questions and challenges that foster experimentation and “what if” thinking
  • Practice opportunities that sharpen skills and build long-term memories
  • Appropriate user control


The elements essential for learning aren’t expendable if our goal is learning. Too often, it seems the goal of being smaller takes precedence and the pieces that matter most are left on the table. As we pursue microlearning, we still need to account for all the elements required to create Meaningful, Memorable e-learning course modules that make a difference.

I was at Grant’s Farm, a much-loved St. Louis family attraction, over the weekend. While interacting with the animals on display, these miniature cattle made me think about being “micro” in nature and reminded me of this really important aspect of Microlearning design.


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About Author

Ethan Edwards
Ethan Edwards

Ethan Edwards draws from more than 30 years of industry experience as an elearning instructional designer and developer. He is responsible for the delivery of the internal and external training and communications that reflect Allen Interactions’ unique perspective on creating Meaningful, Memorable, and Motivational learning solutions backed by the best instructional design and latest technologies.

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