Short, focused bursts of learning, repeated over time, helps beat the 'forgetting curve.'

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The forgetting curve describes the rate at which something is forgotten after it is initially learned. It originates from the 19th-century German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus, who learned that humans forget 50% of new information within an hour of learning it. This number increases to 70% within 24 hours. It only worsens after that.

However, we are not resigned to our fates.

Microlearning: Overcoming the forgetting curve

One scientifically proven method of overcoming the forgetting curve and improving memory retention is through spaced learning — aka repetition.

This is where microlearning’s strength is. Microlearning is great for working professionals who are pursuing advanced degrees or certifications because they work toward their educational goal in between different activities. Microlearning takes learning outside of the traditional classroom and has learners regularly take short lessons and then review the studied content on a consistent and routine basis.

“Microlearning is described as short bites of narrow learning, often accomplished through formal or informal learning platforms that can be completed between two and 10 minutes — four minutes is often termed the sweet spot for microlearning,” says Gregory Price, associate dean and associate professor at the School of Applied Leadership at City University of Seattle.

“They are highly accessible, interactive, and can be consumed through video, visuals, podcasts, short readings and the like.”

Research shows that microlearning makes the transfer of learning 17% more efficient, from the classroom to the desk.

Taking learning on the go, to small screens

Microlearning also naturally works really well on mobile platforms like our smartphones, which is important because, according to the World Advertising Research Center, 51% of all internet users currently access the internet through smartphones only. It is estimated that by 2025, this number will increase to nearly three-quarters of all internet users.

Naturally, education institutions are now using gamification to keep students engaged and increase information absorption. One way this is exemplified is through microcredentialing, which is like a marriage between microlearning and educational certificates. Educational certificates are an agile approach to updating specific skills and knowledge, increasing the opportunity for employees to gain a higher salary as well as helping employers identify whether an employee has the right job skills to perform the job.

“Microcredentials are digital badges obtained following the completion of a series of specific microlearning tasks that learners have successfully performed or completed,” says Price. “Badges can be accumulated and displayed and shared (through platforms such as social media) as a way to document completed microlearning.”

Applicable learning students can use today

While coursework in traditional academic degrees often dwells in theoretical concepts, microlearning focuses on obtaining tactical skills. Principles gained in microlearning modules can be applied to a student’s work right away.

“In a traditional degree, it may be years before a student can put what they’re learning into practice if they’re not already working in the field,” says City University of Seattle Provost Scott Carnz. “Microlearning provides the opportunity to put skills and concepts to direct use right away, making the learning more meaningful and relevant to the student.”

This is all the more important, as the job marketing continues to move further and further away from needing “generalists” and more toward “specialists.”

“The growing jobs are in knowledge areas, not in the general area,” says Laura Williamson, associate dean in the School of Management at City University of Seattle. “For instance, there’s no job that is just ‘leader.’ There are director-level jobs, but always as director of a functional area.”

Learning that is inclusive and accessible

Williamson asserts that through hands-on, strategic learning geared toward obtaining practical skills and knowledge, fields and jobs that previously felt inaccessible without intensive time and financial commitment are now within reach of everyone. With credentialing and microlearning, education can be customizable, modular, easy to access and stackable.

“What’s very cool about MBA programs like ours, which has been redesigned to better fit the needs of today’s students, is that we’ve created these microcredits around specific study areas, like in finance, HR, accounting and more,” says Williamson. “These areas align with professional certification, which means a student can come here and if they want to just get their CFA, they can just take the courses required, they don’t have to enroll in the MBA program.”

“But if they want to get their MBA later, all of the coursework they completed for their CFA will apply toward that, saving them time and money,” added Williamson. “This is so powerful. This doesn’t have to be intimidating. You — anyone — can get an MBA on top of a CFA. Imagine that power.”

“The beautiful thing about microlearning is that we are (already) doing it all the time,” Carnz says. “Formalizing it into training programs or other academic work simply serves to make it clear to us what we are learning and how can apply it when and where it is most needed.”

City University of Seattle is a private nonprofit university accredited through the doctoral level. It is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the Top 50 in the country for its online bachelor’s degree programs for seven consecutive years.