What is a Micro-Course (Mini-Course)?


Think of a micro-course as a chapter in a book. That chapter is basically a sub-topic of the overall book. In a micro-course, we break that sub-topic down and teach the material in easily digestible parts.

As a general rule of thumb, micro-courses that I’ve created have 6-8 lessons. Assuming each lesson has video content, each video can last anywhere from 2-6 minutes. So if you do the math, that’s anywhere from 12 to 48 minutes of video content. To supplement, I usually recommend some interactive modules like quizzes, drag ‘n drop, or online flashcards to make sure the learner is understanding the information.

There’s no exact “formula” for a micro-course. I’ve seen great examples of micro-courses that contain other content like video interviews, testimonials, PDF resources, and discussion boards.

Examples of a Micro-Course

To understand what a micro-course IS, you need to understand what it’s NOT. Each example below has a broad “regular” course title, followed by a few examples of what a micro-course title would look like.

Example 1
 Regular course:  Getting your Finances in Control.  Meh. 

 Micro course:  What you need to know about the differences in IRAs.  Sign Me Up.  

 Micro course:  Two Methods for Getting Out of Credit Card Debt.  Nailed it.  

Example 2
 Regular course:  Parenting – How to Deal with the Terrible Twos.  Way too broad. 

 Micro course:  3 Strategies to Embrace your Two-Year Old’s Adventurous Spirit.  Now we’re talkin’.  

 Micro course:  Tips for Bringing Out the “Little Helper” in your Two-Year Old.  Yes. 

Example 3
 Regular course:  Cross-stitching For Beginners.  Nah.  

 Micro course:  20 Cross-stitch Patterns to Use for Christmas Tree Ornaments.  Boom!  

 Micro course:  Personal Guide: How I Built My Cross-Stitch Toolkit.  YAAAS! 

Example 4
 Regular course:  How to Improve Your Soccer Skills.  Notice how general this is.  

 Micro course:  Exercises to Increase your Soccer Agility.  Specific. 

 Micro course:  Soccer Passing Drills you Can Do at Home.  Specific. 

I used these examples because everyone can understand these topics, but I’m sure you can see how you would refine your own course content to fit this model.

Micro-learning is on the Rise

We live in a world of short attention spans. People expect answers to very specific questions. Instantly. Take Google for example. Search for something specific, and get millions of specific answers in less than a second. That’s how people are learning.

So why does micro-learning work?

In short – it’s all about “small wins.”

A common question people ask about micro-courses is, “What can you really learn in a short course?” The answer’s easy: you can learn one single thing. When you create a micro-course, you should set out to answer ONE question. Preferably a question that will provide a LOT of value when you answer it.

Creating a big, comprehensive course on a topic makes sense if you have an established audience that has been ASKING for something like this. If you already have a large course then you can consider breaking it down into smaller mini-courses. If you can’t do it to the entire course, then one option is to break out some of the content and make those mini-courses the pre-requisites to the larger, more detailed course.

It’s important to note that micro-courses are not the right approach for everything. There is much research that shows promise, but sometimes a course simply cannot be split up.

For those of you who want proof, the articles below are a great start.

1: Khurgin, Alex. “Will the Real Microlearning Please Stand Up.” ATD, 25 Aug. 2015
2: Eibl, Thomas. “What Size is Micro? Using a Didactical Approach Based on Learning Objectives to Define Granularity.” Didactics of Microlearning: Concepts,
Discourses, and Examples. Ed. Theo Hug. Münster: Waxmann, 2007. 125-138
3: Kapp et al. “Distributing Vs. Blocking Learning Questions In A Web-Based Learning Environment.” Journal of Educational Computing Research 51.4 (2015): 397-416.
4: “Micro-Moments: Your Guide to Winning the Shift to Mobile.” Google, 2015.
5: Tauber, Todd, and Johnson, Dani. “Meet the Modern Learner.” Infographic. Bersin by Deloitte. 26 Nov 2014
6: PricewaterhouseCoopers. “Millennials at Work: Reshaping the Workplace.” 2011.
7: Hardy, Ian. “Losing Focus: Why Tech Is Getting in the Way of Work.” BBC News. 8 May 2015
8: Weatherhead, Rob. “Say It Quick, Say It Well—the Attention Span of a Modern Internet Consumer.” The Guardian. 28 Feb. 2014
9: Westfall, Brian. “The LMS Features That Drive Employee Engagement.” Software Advice, 14 Oct. 2014
10: Brinkerhoff, R. O., Apking, A. M. (2001). High impact learning: Strategies for leveraging business results from training. Cambridge, MA: Perseus.
11: Job, Minimol Anil, and Habil Slade Ogalo. “Micro Learning As Innovative Process of Knowledge Strategy.” International Journal of Science & Technology Research 1.11
(2012): 92-96
12: Carey, Benedict. How We Learn: The Surprising Truth about When, Where, and Why It Happens. New York: Random House, 2014
13: MindGym. “The Bite-size Revolution: How to Make Learning Stick.” 2014

Source for references: Small Steps to Big Wins: How Microlearning Transforms Organizations by Grovo

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