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Bigger isn’t always Better: The Case for Microlearning

By Kate Cozart, M.Ed., Pharm.D., BCPS, BCGP, BCACP


Most of us know that our focus is finite. Data, in the form of attention span curves and forgetting curves, has shown that breaks in learning allow recovery, which can then lead to improvements in consolidation of knowledge, building on the material, and recall.


Enter microlearning.


Microlearning is defined as the emerging pedagogy that enables students and clinicians to engage in short, focused, asynchronous, just-in-time learning. Microlearning is short – just a few minutes or even seconds – focused on a singular “knowledge nugget.” Microlearning also takes place “just in time” – right before the knowledge needs to be applied. This benefits the learner as the time involved is unlikely to exceed their attention span and benefits the preceptor who often has a busy schedule and is balancing many responsibilities.


One unique feature of microlearning is that it is asynchronous. Learners can access the learning according to their preferences for place and time. This makes it most effectively delivered via technology. This can be a podcast or a blog, an e-learning module or video. Lately tweets and reels have entered the scene as methods of microlearning. For those unaware, reels are short videos on social media (typically 15 seconds to 3 minutes) that convey a thought – and to these videos you can add text, sounds, etc. These methods of learning are short and engaging, and the asynchronous availability also allows learners to revisit the material and reinforce the knowledge to promote recall later in time.


For microlearning to be the most effective, we want the learning to be long-lasting. So let’s revisit the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve. It takes approximately 4 exposures to material for prolonged retention. However, forgetting will happen to a lesser extent and more slowly with each subsequent exposure, and if we connect learning to how it will benefit us, our memories will prioritize its retention!


How can we use this in practice? A few ways I currently use microlearning include:

  • Having students review and assess reels that are popular, using their critical thinking skills

  • Having students create reels, thereby increasing accurate information available to the general population

  • Referring patients to accounts I’ve vetted, like @americanheartassociation on TikTok

Looking for more examples? Come find me on TikTok: @theresilientpharmd. I have a pinned reel explaining microlearning in under a minute, plus several microlearning reels related to clinical care and topics like burnout, impostor syndrome, psychological safety, and compassion.


Want to test out retention with microlearning? Find a reel in an area outside of your expertise and watch it today, tomorrow, in a week, and in a month. See how much you learn over time!


Want to read more?

 

Kate Cozart, M.Ed., Pharm.D., BCPS, BCGP, BCACP

Clinical Pharmacist Practitioner, Primary Care

Department of Veterans Affairs

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