Sunday, November 19, 2017

How small are the units in micro-learning?

Sean Gallagher writes "As Corporate World Moves Toward Curated ‘Microlearning,’ Higher Ed Must Adapt" (Nov 6, 2017, Edsurge). But how flexible are the alternatives to traditional institution programs and how small are the "micro-learning" units? Gallagher points to MOOC providers, such as EdX, as a new model for corporate learning, but are they? Also is the term "micro-learning" misleading: splitting learning in "micro" units may make the study more convenient, but does not reduce the thousands of hours required for a professional qualification.

The oldest reference to "micro-learning" I could find in the research literature was Brudenell and  Meier (1968). The authors provide "5Rs of Microlearning": Record, Review, Respond, Refine, and Reteach. This is from the age of analogue videotape, but the advice is just as relevant today. The authors suggest instruction videos of three to seven minutes. In contrast, today's MOOCs require more than an hour of study per day, over several weeks.

The "EdX Micromasters", described as "a series of higher-level courses recognized by companies for real job relevancy, and may accelerate a Master's degree...". But the courses making up the Micromasters are each twelve weeks long, with eight to ten hours study a week. This is about the same size as a conventional university course and at 96 hours study for each unit does not seem very "micro". In addition the student must complete a fixed set of courses from EdX and then a capstone assessment for the Micromasters, with no substitutions of other courses allowed, making this less flexible than a conventional university program.

The EdX Micromasters is similar to a university graduate certificate. However, a university will typically permit the student to incorporate courses from other institutions and give credit of prior learning (the Australian VET system provides even more flexibility).

A certificate under the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) requires 600 to 1200 hours of learning.  A VET certificate, such as the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment (TAE40116), has ten "Units of Competency". This works out to an average minimum of 60 hours per unit. In contrast a university certificate would be made up of only four courses, making for 150 hours per unit, two and a half times the size.

How small can a unit of learning be? At 60 hours a VET unit still seems quite large. At the other extreme the typical one to two hour workplace training course seems too short. There are structured, placed short on-line courses, such as ANU Online Coffee Courses, at one to two hours for a week long course. But could two hour courses be assembled ("curated") into a larger unit of learning? This would require thirty such courses for a VET Unit of Competency and three hundred for a AQF Certificate.

ps: The prefix micro denotes one millionth. If taken literally "micro-learning" is a very small amount of learning. The longest qualification under the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) is four years.  A full time year is 1,200 hours study, so a four year degree requires 4,800 hours. One millionth of a degree's worth of learning would be just over 17 seconds.