In 2012, Mashable had published an article called “Technology Creating a Generation of Distracted Students” which reported the results of a study done by Pew Research Center. According to their data, about 90 percent of 2,500 education professionals agreed that contemporary technology had created a generation which struggled to concentrate, was prone to distraction, yet apt with web search and quick to find any information.
Those changes in our capacity to concentrate has society-wide effects: a recent article by Fortune publicized the findings of Educational Testing Service (ETS) which indicated steep decline in American Millenials’ literacy, numeracy and something called ‘problem-solving in technology-rich environments’; as compared not only to their peers abroad but to the older generations in the US. “We’ve forced companies to make technology that’s extremely easy to use, and that’s better at doing our day-to-day tasks than we are”, said Andy Campbell in a Huffington Post article.
One area where this shows is education, especially in its online form. For instance, YouTube is full of quality educational information, but according to the service’s own stats, average time spent on a video before tuning off is somewhere between 1:04 and 2:43. By its fifth minute the video loses almost its entire audience. Online courses fare even worse, with completion rates hovering between two and 14 percent, and user involvement dropping sharply after just one or two weeks of training.
As much as certain groups tout Adderall and Ritalin as silver bullets to those problems, I’m convinced that the solution, albeit a complex and costly one, lies in adapting material to shorter attention spans. Taking information and skillfully repackaging it in shorter formats, micro-courses, where each lesson takes no more than a few minutes, has proven to notably increase completion rates, something that is reported by a number of companies working in the field.
Micro-learning courses also require a specialized platform: putting your educational material on YouTube is much like juxtaposing a plate of healthy organic salad to 15 bowls of sweet, tempting gummy bears and M&M’s.
Content creators deserve all the best tools to make their product look equally tempting but what also deserve is full, undivided attention from their students. Such platforms may also benefit enterprises: over 41.7 percent of global Fortune 500 companies already use some form of educational technology to instruct employees during formal learning hours, and that figure is only going to steadily increase in future years.
Where can people try micro-learning?
Albeit somewhat nascent, the field of micro-learning is being fast-populated by ambitious businesses with strong educational backgrounds who can take full advantage of increased demand for education from people with too little spare time. The market is far from its maturity though, allowing for new entrants. Here are some websites where you experience micro-learning first-hand and see whether it can help you achieve your goals:
This non-profit educational organization offers free training in the most demanded areas, such as science, maths, humanities, and computer programming. Most subjects come with a basic level micro-course, with a total number of micro-lessons exceeding 4,200.
A primarily video-centric resource, Curiosity aggregates online educational videos from other e-learning websites and helps users discover them. The aggregated content is mostly free and very diverse in its nature (sometimes it’s edutainment rather that pure education) but there are serious paid courses as well.
Coursmos is an online education platform that specializes in micro-courses. Video lessons are bite-sized, lasting up to five minutes. Courses are divided into categories for easy browsing, ranging from art to science to health and beauty. The platform contains both free and premium courses, the latter are available for a fixed monthly fee of $9.90.
A privately held online education company founded in 1995, Lynda.com offers thousands of video courses in software, creative and business skills. Lynda.com serves video tutorials narrated by industry experts to over 6,000,000 users. The website provides access to its video library for a monthly or a yearly fee on a basic or a premium tier. Previews of courses are available for free.
Another player with a long history, TED.com offers an extremely popular (and free!) source of motivational speeches and scientific tidbits that may very well turn your understanding of various subjects upside down or at least provide valuable insights. TED.com systematizes videos on particular subjects in the form of over 100 playlists which can be searched by topic or duration.
Despite the rise of micro learning and bite-sized formats there remains a ton of work to be done. Users are just beginning to discover all the different ways to find and absorb knowledge in mere minutes. We on the content supplying side have to do an even better job of pinpointing the right delivery mechanisms to help our users to retain focus and soak in material.
We work closely with the educators to help them find the best way to design their micro courses, so not only the completion rate remains decent, but the students would be able to apply the newly obtained knowledge and come back for more. Today, micro learning is on track to solve the problem of attention deficit, ready to help students around the globe to master material more effectively.
LinkedIn has recently announced the acquisition of Lynda.com which is a good sign for micro-learning platforms in general. Already anybody can find an interesting micro-course on one of the aforementioned websites, and I hope the example of Lynda will trigger many other businesses to explore the space of micro-education, increasing choice and quality for the benefit of students.