Have you seen what’s trending on Facebook? How about what’s trending on Twitter or Instagram? With seemingly infinite information sources but only finite time, it may be hard to conceive of doing in-depth study of academic subjects. Yet the reality of our short-attention-span world is actually key to understanding the coming learning trends in higher ed. Educational institutions are eager to capitalize on students’ new learning styles.
The underlying aspect of the latest trends is microlearning, or learning implemented in small, objective-driven chunks. A larger lesson is divided into its smallest components so students can learn each one quickly and usually independently. The content may be delivered in videos, podcasts, short articles, infographics, and other formats that can be absorbed in minutes. So instead of setting aside blocks of hours to master a full skill set, students spend minutes mastering each detail and then move on to the next step. This supports retention: small nuggets of information are easier to remember and recall when needed.
Higher ed institutions are jumping on this type of learning, too. For example, at an online collaboration of six major state universities called the University Learning Store (https://universitylearningstore.org/), learners can purchase apps for skills they wish to acquire or improve. They can also demonstrate mastery by completing an assessment and receive a badge they can add to their portfolios and CVs.
Key takeaways for curriculum developers. This trend encompasses two major changes to traditional learning: breaking up blocks of learning into bite-sized pieces, and including application steps to reinforce and extend learning.
The most obvious advantage of microlearning is portability. Untethered from classrooms, education can be integrated into daily life, encouraging continuous learning. Thanks to smartphones, downtime such as commuting can become learning time. Using apps like Google Docs, Basecamp, and others, groups of teachers and learners can collaborate from different neighborhoods or time zones.
Key takeaways for curriculum developers. Mobile learning is accessible to users any time they are connected to the Internet. Providing opportunities to push learners’ attention to online sources that will enrich their learning will result in better outcomes.
Using gaming techniques for learning—not creating games for learners—increases learner motivation and engagement. For instance, having users click buttons or move sliders to reveal each segment of information helps make them responsible for their learning. Structuring the learning as a game encourages learners to move through the material to reach the desired outcome. See the Higher Education Student-Facing Handout for an example designed for first- and second-year English composition students.
Key takeaways for curriculum developers. Create badges that learners can earn to reinforce achievement, check progress against course goals, and track where they are in relation to other team members.
The popularity of YouTube and other video sharing sites is a testament to the usefulness of videos. A wealth of short videos are available to spice up instruction, highlight important points of a topic, and make learning a sensory experience. Videos, combined with gaming techniques, bring learning into a space that students occupy and enjoy.
Key takeaways for curriculum developers. Videos should be short: 2-4 minutes long if possible. Many times, longer topics are covered in a series of short videos, each one providing learning while piquing the viewer’s interest in the next video.
Learners can master complicated topics despite a universe of distractions. Curriculum developers have to meet learners in their intellectual space to grab their attention and give them the tools to control their own learning.