For some years now I have been involved in designing microlearning tools, although I never realised it. I did realise the importance of the concept as it has always been clear to me that we learn in small steps, after all, it’s how our brains are wired. As a dyslexic, my brain has always switched off fairly quickly after a short time span and I was usually sleeping (at least virtually) ten minutes into most lessons. For me, it was technology not the DJ who saved my life (sorry for those not young enough to appreciate the pun.) My first job was a DJ so a little indulgent reminiscing is to be expected.

Experts say that we are in the midst of a learning crisis. According to Deloitte, the rapid technological change has led to a skills half-life of 2.5 years. This is scary on its own but at the same time, the way people consume information, and thus how they learn, has changed. The most important change is that “attention” is an ever diminishing resource in the digital age. Schools are almost full of Millennials. By 2025, Millennials will also make up about 75 percent of the workforce. The average attention span of the Millennial generation is 90 seconds. Yes that right, 90 seconds. So if organisations want to attract, develop and retain talent in this generation, they need to adapt to their audience. Returning to the music theme and to quote The Kinks, “give the people want they want”.

If we explore the Millennials in a little more detail, 70 percent of them use YouTube monthly. They simply prefer short video over other mediums. And even on YouTube if the video lasts more than 4 minutes or has more than 120 words per minute, forget it. And it’s not just Millennials that suffer from short attention spans, watch people waiting for a bus or sitting on a train, everything popular is quick and short from social media tweeting and whatsapp to the popular games they swipe and tap. Even the newspapers freely distributed are written in a short, read-it-all-on-the-tube format. All designed for short attention spans. And they work. Attention has become the scarce resource of the information economy. If you figure out how to get attention in today’s world, you will be the winner. If you’re not even aware that there is such a battle for attention, you will be clueless.

And it gets even more complex when we add personality and choice into the equation. Before deciding whom or what to give attention to, learners must decide whom not to give attention. We don’t have free will but we always have free won’t. Many Millennials are just not going to waste their time and attention on something because it is what you want them to do. There were no “microsuasion” techniques to motivate me at school, just corporal punishment (and chalk bullets). No wonder I liked Pink Floyd “Hey! teachers! leave the kids alone! All in all you’re just another brick in the wall.” when my teachers tried to teach everyone the same thing as if we were are all the same with no personality of any sorts.

I can hear the cry from my old teachers “but we must teach you to concentrate for longer” and maybe they have a point, not that it ever worked for me. My brain just could not cope; it simply went into sleep mode. And my teachers focused much more on persuasion than motivation, but I needed motivation in the form of “micro-learning” and “gamification”. At school we had a joke: how do you eat an elephant? The answer was one bite at a time. I needed a way of learning content in small, very specific and more exciting bursts. Motivation for me required some control of what and when I was learning. I did not know it at the time but I needed micro-learning which takes a large amount of complex information about a specific topic, and dices it up into bite-sized lessons that can more easily be consumed and digested. This process typically allows learners to understand, absorb and retain more information than with marathon learning techniques, or “virtual sleep” interrupting internal or external classes.

But it is not just school learning where micro-learning helps. Mahatma Gandhi once said “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” As a busy adult now, time is such a valuable asset. So how do busy, time-starved individuals find the time to learn new skills? Micro-learning seems to be the answer. Micro-learning can take place anywhere, anytime and via any number of mobile digital devices from smartphones to tablets. It is the perfect solution for on-the-spot learning. It embraces the very concept of lifetime of learning. To save time and maintain personal interest I have been listening to some podcasts recently at double speed on my iPhone. I wanted to see if I can actually maintain attention and listen to the end rather than getting fed up and changing direction after a few minutes. I have had varying results. I have found that it works best with deeper voices and slower talkers. Higher pitched voices sound too chipmunky and are hard to understand. “We can hardly stand the wait” The Chipmunks.

Learning can and should be a rewarding personal experience. After all, we are born to learn, although not always what our teachers want us to learn. Micro-learning can be highly customised to individual topics, students or employer needs, and effortlessly implemented as part of a continuous learning experience. Micro-learning allows users to quickly and easily learn something new and allow for information to be accessed on a need-to-know-right-now basis. Micro-learning is an evolving and adaptive process that creates a unique and personalised experience for each learner. I knew what worked years ago and its good to now find myself an expert in such an exciting concept. We should finish on a song,”Give Something Meaning Before You Give It A Name”. by the Common Kings. I knew the meaning years ago, now I have a name for what I do!

Steve Cushing