Why Micro-Learning Works so Well for Language Acquisition
by Anke Julia Sanders, Learning and Development Specialist / Educational Psychologist (PhD)
In the e-Learning industry, micro-learning has established itself as one of the top methods in instructional deliveries and material design. Creating short modules that each focus on one or just a few aspects within a given learning journey has shown to promote a positive and effective learning experience. It’s not surprising, because as learning professionals, we generally have one goal: create learning! And, of course, this is not different in language learning, also or especially when we find ourselves in informal, technology-guided learning situations. As a former professor of German and language trainer, I have always emphasized the importance of „breaking it up“ and „learning in chunks.“ Yet, it wasn’t until a few years ago, when I transitioned into designing learning experiences for corporate training programs that I learned the name for this: micro-learning.
What exactly does micro-learning mean and how can we use it for language learning (either as an instructor, instructional designer, learning professional, or a student)?
Micro-learning can stimulate interest and motivation.
One of the big advantages of micro-learning is that the learner can or ideally should be able to choose what s/he wants to focus on in the, let’s say, 5 minutes s/he has to spare: Review some vocabulary? Learn about adjective endings? Or, how about a brief multimedia exercise or quiz focusing on the previous modules one has already completed. The choice is yours and the autonomy that the learner gets through micro-learning can function as an interest catalyst and overall motivator to keep engagement up and improve one’s performance.
Micro-learning can help the learner improve learning habits.
Depending on the content, a micro-learning session can be anywhere between a few seconds to about 15 minutes long. In fact, the shorter the unit, the more focus we can place on a particular topic. We do not overwhelm our learners and it allows them to better process each “chunk”, resulting in improved learning and performance. Also, it is easier to create a learning habit if it is not taking up too much time. Sure, if we want to learn a language we should spend as much time as possible with that language. Unfortunately, that is not very realistic in most cases. Therefore, engaging with one small unit at a time is better than nothing. And, it can help new learners to create a routine. It’s like those language learning calendars I had growing up: Each day I learned something new, even if it was just a new word, a brief quote, or random fact about the target language and culture.
In language learning in particular, I prefer to teach one to two aspects in one unit. I have actually done this in my YouTube channel a few years ago: Take a look at German 365 (short and crisp knowledge bites) and German 365 Spezial (a little longer, more complex). Just remember, it takes about 21 days to establish a new habit. Why not do so by learning one new word a day? Then see where that can take you.
Micro-learning can be personalized to make learning meaningful.
Micro-Learning is not just about creating new or building on existing knowledge, it leads to applying the learned material effectively in our every-day lives. Thus, when it comes to micro-learning in language acquisition, we have to make sure to design or chose each learning chunk in a meaningful way. But again, that is the beauty in micro-learning; instead of providing just one path to complete your learning journey, you get to make it your own. This goes hand in hand with the motivation micro-learning brings, learners are more inclined to complete several units on diverse topics when they are short rather than one long unit that might include content that is not of direct interest to them.
Micro-Learning is for anyone, anytime, anywhere.
For language acquisition in particular, I have found that you can turn most resources into micro-learning units. As a Professor, I gave my students a list of things anyone could do at any moment and any place. For example, start the day by tuning in to a German radio station and just listen for a few minutes, or alternatively, play a German song in the shower. If you take the bus to school or work and you have a smart device, why not download a German podcast and listen to one episode every day or watch a YouTube video on something that interests you, in German. Then, you can also take your good old schoolbook or learning material and find one grammar aspect, or one word-family that you want to focus on for a few minutes. Whatever it is, micro-learning is easily achieved at anytime and anywhere.
Micro-learning is ideal in language acquisition but should likely not be your only learning vehicle. Nevertheless, when you are planning micro-learning units try to keep in mind your own or your student’s needs. Is the goal to learn something new or expand knowledge, or do we want to reinforce and improve? Also think about how best to organize your units, how to access them, and plan it. Part of a well-rounded plan should include assessment. It is always helpful to take a baseline test prior to the start of your learning journey and then, measure periodically to see if it is working for you or your student(s). Feedback in form of a test is invaluable in language acquisition as it not only shows us if our strategy is working, but also where to adjust it if it is not. I have no doubt, however, that micro-learning will leave you or your student(s) accomplished. A boost in confidence in our learning abilities and the content we learned will undoubtedly take everyone’s learning experience to the next level.