Everyday student life often follows this pattern: Despite knowing the importance of carefully reviewing lectures, consistent preparation and reviewing often falls behind. Students usually have to spend a lot of time recapitulating the material in a short time period before the exam. But what if there was an efficient and modern way to tackle this problem and to encourage regular repetition?
This is exactly where the microlearning concept kicks in. Microlearning is a teaching approach characterized by delivering concise and focused units of learning material, often in the form of short activities. It refers to sessions ranging from several seconds to 15 minutes (Buchem & Hamelmann, 2010) and from 30 seconds to five minutes according to Jahnke et al. (2020). Generally, an average between the two is used. Such short durations have two main advantages: (1) they can be completed at convenient times of a busy day, for example, while commuting or during a lunch break, and (2) learners are likely to stay focused for the entire session since it does not extend their relatively short average attention spans.
Microlearning is designed to counter the effects of the ‘Forgetting Curve’, according to which our ability to retain information rapidly declines after twenty minutes. It offers students the opportunity to consume knowledge in compact units, often directly on their smartphones. The most important content from lectures is presented briefly and precisely. With targeted questions, students can test themselves, refresh and consolidate their knowledge - regardless of time and place.
Microlearning leads to an efficient and sustainable transfer of knowledge. This can be shown by several studies:
For example, Gassler et al. (2004) show that better accessibility to learning content, e.g., via smartphone, motivates students to actually use the learning platforms and integrate them into their everyday lives. Regular repetition of learning units can counteract the ‘Forgetting Curve’ and promote long-term retention of knowledge.
Another important aspect of microlearning is the short and easily digestible learning sessions. Due to the small portions in which the learning content is served, the learning material can be better processed, and information overload can thus be prevented, much to the benefit of the students and their learning outcome (Bruck et al., 2012).
Overall, microlearning is a crucial step in closing the gap between formal learning, such as in universities and schools, and informal learning via digital channels, such as with smartphones (Buchem & Hamelmann, 2010). This step enables flexible learning and sets new accents for the learning experience in the digital age.
Scenario Description with KlickerUZH
As a lecturer you would like to allow your students to revise what they heard in your lecture after the lecture outside of the classroom. Therefore, you decide to provide your students with microlearning questions which you can provide via the KlickerUZH on the mobile app.
To enhance student motivation and engagement, microlearning sessions are designed to include concise summaries and visual illustrations of key concepts. It is recommended to limit the question set to a range of five to ten questions. In order to incentivize student participation, microlearning sessions can be made available for a specific duration at fixed intervals throughout the week, such as one day after the corresponding lecture.
Since the questions are meant to be answered whenever students find time to do so, the level of difficulty should not be too elevated. Nevertheless, these short learning sequences have a positive effect on concentration and thus promote your long-term knowledge absorption. In this context the questions posed should have a clear answer.
If you wish to do so, the microlearning sessions can be incorporated into a gamification context where students are rewarded for engaging in these questions (if correct). Students can collect bonus points if they complete the question set within the selected timeframe.
KlickerUZH Microlearning has been implemented in two large-scale first-year lectures, accommodating up to 800 students, as well as in bachelor courses at the University of Zurich since 2022. In order to assess the effectiveness of this microlearning approach in higher education, we conducted an internal surveys with a sample size of 63 participants. Please note that the results presented here are based on qualitative feedback and are not derived from a statistically significant dataset or formal analysis. In addition to the survey data, we also gathered insights from lecturers and content creators to further enhance our understanding. Based on this collective input, the following learnings have emerged:
- Anywhere: When creating microlearning questions, ensure they can be answered without the need for a calculator, any other tool or reference materials, allowing students to engage with the content anywhere.
- Motivation and better understanding: Results indicate that students generally have a positive attitude towards microlearnings. In the internal survey, a majority of the participants, specifically 72%, expressed that engaging with the microlearning content increased their motivation to review the learning material. An even greater number claimed microlearning helped them remember and understand the material (87.0% of those who completed a session). Participants mentioned they found it very helpful to revise the material on a weekly basis and see whether they had understood the concepts. It was even requested to increase the number of questions in the microlearning sessions, which currently lay at 3.75 questions per microlearning.
- Level of difficulty: While some students have criticized that the questions are not of an exam-level difficulty, it is important to clarify in advance that the purpose of these questions is to facilitate repetition and enhance long-term retention of knowledge, rather than to directly prepare students for exams.
- Alignment to lecture content: Microlearning questions need to match the lecture content. If the originally planned content is not covered by the lecturer during the lecture, the questions may need to be rescheduled for the following week.
- Investment: Creating new weekly microlearning questions can be quite time-consuming, but the benefits of promoting active learning and retention make it worthwhile.
- Regularity: To ensure the effectiveness of microlearning, it is essential to schedule regular question sessions to provide ongoing practice and reinforcement of the course material. However, some students expressed a preference for having the microlearnings available continuously, rather than within a fixed time window.
- Integration of microlearning into LMS: To accommodate students who missed the microlearning sessions, we integrated the questions into the learning management system (OLAT) some days after the microlearning session. This enabled students to access and engage with the questions, even if they couldn't attend the microlearning sessions.
- Make studying more accessible for students by encouraging mobile learning.
- Encourage active learning and student engagement beyond the classroom by integrating it into students’ everyday lives.
- Improve accessibility and availability of learning content.
- Promote long-term knowledge-retention.
- Provide timely feedback and help students understand where they stand and address any concerns they may have.