Just Because It’s Short Doesn’t Mean You Will Remember It

Here at Intela, we are big fans of microlearning. There is a huge amount of research demonstrating that presenting small nuggets of information spaced over time improves learning retention. Much of this is due to limitations on our working memory:

Working Memory

Working memory is short-term (no more than a few minutes) and limited – capable of maintaining no more than four or five discrete learning nuggets at a time. So massed learning (lots of information delivered at once) quickly overwhelms working memory.

And, what we want to remember long-term we need to transfer from working memory to long-term memory:

Long-term Memory

We also know that learners have limited ability to focus and will tune out after a few minutes. In this study:

Optimal Video Length

the author measured student engagement with videos of different lengths and found that:

Optimal Video Length Graphic

learners will watch all, or practically all, of the video for shorter videos (< 9 minutes). But for videos > 9 minutes, learners will watch smaller and smaller percentages of the video as the video length increases.

So, far so good for microlearning. But long-term memory is subject to storage decay, and over time we will forget what we store there. And it doesn’t matter if what we store there is “long” or “short.”

It will still become inaccessible – unless we create exercises that require the learner to retrieve the memory into working memory and re-encode it back into long-term memory:



So, for microlearning to be effective it cannot stand on its own. It must be combined with retrieval practice to encourage true long-term learning.



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