Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

22 December 2009


Clark @ 7:04 AM

In the conversation with Kris Rockwell of Hybrid Learning I mentioned previously, we talked about the definition of mobile learning.  We both agreed that it wasn’t about loading your average asynchronous elearning course onto the phone, and that it was more about performance support.  Brevity is the soul of mobile, as well as wit.  And I also am happy to think of mobile as an augment to formal learning: reactivating knowledge, distributing practice, contextualizing learning, and even performance capture.  But then we came to the ‘grey’ area of so-called microcourses.

I have mentioned the possibility in the past, sort of on faith rather than having thought through the actual design.  Kris mentioned cited a colleague who talks about “2 minute courses” (which I can’t find on the interweb), but I really have to wonder what it might really mean.  What learning objectives could we meet that way?  I can see small chunks of content delivery, but that’s more learning augment than course.

To me, a full course has to have an introduction to reactivate relevant knowledge, a model presented to guide performance, an example that shows how the concept gets applied in context, and a chance to practice applying the concept to another context.  Finally, some post-practice reflection and  closing of the learning experience should occur.

If it’s less than that, e.g. the learner’s primed because it’s in the moment, the information is pared down to the minimum to successfully get the learner past the immediate point, it’s performance support.  Or, if the learner’s motivated and receptive already, and it’s just an information update, not a new skill, then again I don’t think of it as a course.

On the other hand, it may be that just a rethink of something they’ve been doing, a ‘tuning’ of an approach, could make sense.  Or, perhaps, regular mini-presentations and small practices of a different way to look at the same thing.  Though that might be distributed learning, not a mini-course, which would be OK.

So I’m okay if it’s just a semantic thing, and we’re talking learning augment or performance support.  And, I’m willing to think there might be limited learning topics that a quick cartoon, a simple model, an illustrated example (comic strip, brief animation), and a single practice (read: multiple choice question) with feedback that’s also a summary might work.  But none are springing to mind.

So, are there cases you can think of that would qualify?  Is microlearning for real?


  1. Clark,

    You are absolutely right. MLearning would be best for (what you described as) reactivating knowledge, distributing practice, contextualizing learning, and even performance capture. And calling them ‘microcourses’ is alright if they are used for the right purpose – as mentioned by you.
    We sell 2 min videos (from skill-pill) and all of them fall under ‘reactivating knowledge’ category.

    Comment by Amit Garg — 22 December 2009 @ 7:27 AM

  2. Good posting Quinn. However, I think the concept of “micro-courses” or “micro-learning” is definitely for real, both in the context of delivery to mobile devices and otherwise. I think of it simply in the context of Gottfredsen’s “Five Moments of Learning Need”, where the first two are formal learning “moments of need” — learning some for the first time (basics) or learning more (more advanced knowledge in a subject). You need have such learning include intro/context, WIIFM, content, practice, quiz, etc. as most e-learning or ILT courses do. You can simply deliver the key content to learn — say key concept definitions (inc. a few examples and non-examples), or the list of pricinple guidelines, or the process description (whatever content type it is). There is all kinds of stuff that can be formally taught for the first time in 1-3 minutes. If that violates your concept of a “course”, and hence “micro-course” is hard to stomach as a concept, then fine… we can call it “microlearning” as you mention at the end of your post, and keep the word “course” out of it (reserve that for perhaps a series of such “microlearning” nuggets, that have other things like practice and quizzes included when appropriate.

    My point is that I think mobile learning of this kind *can* be used for formal learning, not just performance support or to augment formal learning. We just need to get out of the box of formal learning involving all these parts to it, and being some long event (classroom or e-Learning).

    Comment by Tom Stone — 22 December 2009 @ 9:31 AM

  3. Here are some examples of very short asynchronous m-learning courses. Call them “mini courses” or whatever you like.

    This is a beta version introducing a business banking service. It contains 5 pages of content and a 10 question quiz. As a demo, it is framed within a PDA on this page – http://www.minutebio.com/courses/RDS_M/RDSbeta.html

    Also, here are what I call MinuteBio’s. Three are on the following page and can be downloaded for your phone or previewed – http://www.minutebio.com/MBPhone.htm

    The MinuteBios will work on any Flash enabled devices. The estimated completion times are 1 minute and are fun, short bios of historical figures. Nothing extensive, but examples of fun things I make when not working for the man.

    Enjoy and thank you for another thought provoking post.

    Comment by Jeff Goldman — 22 December 2009 @ 7:19 PM

  4. Great feedback! I think Jeff’s example makes Tom’s point. While the particular business banking example seemed like it was too much to assimilate in one go, I can see how it could work for a more constrained learning situation.

    Comment by Clark — 23 December 2009 @ 11:22 AM

  5. […] this week Clark Quinn talked of Microcourses wondering if microcourses have any […]

    Pingback by Do Microcourses Have a Place in Workplace Learning? | Upside Learning Blog — 28 December 2009 @ 5:58 AM

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