This is not the front page

Employing Microlearning with the Intention to Build Skills 

Instance Description

Microlearning is an educational strategy wherein an educator “breaks down” complex tasks and behaviors into meaningful pieces that become powerful building blocks for learning. For instance, Darby notes in Small Teaching Online (Darby & Lang, 2019) that “successful coaches worked (with athletes) on small, fundamental skills that had powerful effects” on their learning. This intentional focus can be supported with an educator’s attention to delivery mode and timing. We want to provide scaffolding to learners at exactly the right moment, which is often referred to as “just-in-time learning,” when they can practice, gain experience, and receive feedback with repetition, in real time. This can be done in many ways and on many platforms. Our mobile phones are one of the best examples of this; we have all grown accustomed to thinking of our phones as “Swiss army knives,” or key tools for living in the modern age — serving as restaurant menus or flashlights, among a host of other useful functions. Delivering content through mobile phones makes sense. How can we maximize this potential?

See it in Practice

TryIt Python Example

You can use Python coding to solve all sorts of problems. To get started, let's try something simple. In the left half of the window, try to enter the variables and the sum in the correct spaces, and then choose the Run button. A correct answer will return the following result in the right side of the DataCamp window: “The sum of 1.5 and 6.3 is 7.8” 

# This will get executed each time the exercise gets initialized. # Using the variables below, verify that 1.5 plus 6.3 equal 7.8. num1 = num2 = # Add two numbers sum = # Display the sum print('The sum of {0} and {1} is {2}'.format(num1, num2, sum))

Sometimes, students who have received complex or demanding material in class cannot later quite remember the required steps or information necessary to complete assigned homework. Course authors and designers can intentionally help with this sort of situation by promoting “just in time” skill building. Repetitive practice reinforces the learning of a skill or behavior, and instructors can now include an opportunity for practice the moment a concept is presented by embedding DataCamp as a sort of “scratch pad” for students. To work with DataCamp for some just-in-time practice with coding, follow this example: 

  • Offer students an example of a simple problem that can be solved using Python coding.
  • Suggest that students use the DataCamp window that’s embedded in the course to practice writing their own code to solve a similar simple task. 
  • Inform students that they can select the “Run” button at the bottom of the DataCamp window in order to see if their code has been written correctly to solve the problem. 

Note: you can try a simplified version of this practice yourself in the DataCamp window above!

Later, when the learner sits down to attend to homework, the task and process required will be that much more familiar due to prior knowledge and experience at the point when the concept was presented in the lesson.

Students can gain familiarity with Python while receiving instruction in any mode - be it synchronous, asynchronous or via cell phone while attending class in person. While doing homework, students can refer to the code they created previously in DataCamp. During office hours, instructors can reflect with individual students as they refer to content in Canvas and enter code in DataCamp - all in the same window. Repetitive practice builds learning!


DataCamp can be used with several programming languages including Python and R.


Credit: David Babb

Historically, students in Meteo 101: Understanding Weather Forecasting have a difficult time converting local time to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), an essential skill for forecasting the weather and passing the class. This is taught during the first week of class but is used, and assessed, throughout the semester. Failure of students to master the conversion leads to poor outcomes. 

To help students grasp the material and create durable learning, the faculty use the “testing effect.” They provide several opportunities for students to test their understanding with the low-stakes quiz above. Similar self-checks are interspersed throughout the course and are officially assessed in lesson quizzes and unit labs.  



Interactions like this can be developed in any number of different technologies. Check the technology for accessibility compliance before using.


Learners are constantly adding new information to their repertoires. Microlearning adjusts for new contexts by intentionally considering these key ideas: 

  • Learners access information from anywhere using the phones in their pockets. This promotes “just-in-time” learning, which leverages intentional delivery to help people quickly and easily do what is necessary. 
  • Because learners keep a relatively small amount of information in their short-term memories, which reduces cognitive load (Green, 2019), providing just-in-time learning helps reinforce what’s important at a certain moment. 

The Earth and Mineral Sciences’ Glass blowing studio worked with the Dutton Institute and Articulate Rise 360 to develop just-in-time training to prompt students to understand important safety protocols prior to engaging in a potentially dangerous work setting. Information is optimized to be displayed and consumed via mobile phone. Learners guide themselves sequentially through key steps to keep themselves (and others) safe just prior to and during this very “hands on” learning experience. Learners toggle through content that includes how to protect one’s eyes, ears, breathing and ingestion and learn about proper practices for working with high heat, dressing appropriately, and managing other safety and first aid concerns. Reinforcing safety protocols every time a student walks into the glass studio makes good sense, as students are provided with information in a timely and accessible manner.  


Accessibility is only as good as the tools you are using and the way in which you use them. Images need alt tags, videos need captions, and headings need be used, to name a few. Articulate is constantly upgrading their accessibility.  



  • Darby, F., & Lang, J. M. (2019). Small teaching online: Applying learning science in online classes. Jossey-Bass. 
  • Green, C. (2019). Classics in the History of Psychology -- Miller (1956). 
  • Horvath, J.C. (2019). Stop talking, start influencing: 12 insights from brain science to make your message stick. Exisle Publishing.