Microlearning - it's the little things that matter
Microlearning approach for teachers; Taking small steps to learning a language - for students; Personal experience - Polina Kryukova.
In today’s ever-changing world trends emerge and go by the day, yet some are more persistent than others. The world of TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) may not be so susceptible to this, but we have seen some drastic changes over the last decade in the way we teach, use materials, and even in the mediums. The pandemic sped up the transition to online education pushing everyone to accept and adapt to the new digital classrooms, but this change triggered yet some other interesting developments.
As people do not have to spend time traveling to and from their English class the time and frequency of the lessons are not affected by it anymore. We can now afford to have more but shorter lessons, which a growing number of students seem to opt for. The way these lessons are handled by the teachers is somewhat different from the usual approaches to the classroom because many lessons are as short as 15 minutes!
The approach you may want to consider here is called Microlearning. So let’s take a look at what it entails, and how you may utilize it.
What is Microlearning?
Microlearning is a new trending approach to teaching ESL, which involves short lessons (between 15 to 45 minutes), focusing on small learning units and skill-based aims. Every lesson is divided into small approachable blocks (around 2-3 in number) with short clear aims. Think of it as imparting small amounts of knowledge in specific concentrated bursts.
We have already talked about “chunks” in relation to the Lexical approach to teaching vocabulary, but in the case of Microlearning, everything you teach should be cut into chunks.
Who is it suitable for?
Practically everyone, but mostly busy adults with no time for homework or long lessons, beginner to pre-intermediate levels, older students who find it difficult to keep up with long lessons and the amount of information given to them, and people with short attention span who struggle with knowledge retainment.
How do I use Microlearning?
Unfortunately, it is not as simple as dividing the course into smaller chunks. The curriculum should be revised and divided into pieces with short clear aims and a skill-based approach. Each piece must be analyzed, you should single out the specific aspects you are going to work on.
Take the three “S” approach to every lesson: Situation (I have a headache), Seek (Look up the right painkiller), Solution (go to the pharmacy). The lesson should answer a question, which will be the objective of sorts.
There are also many particular tools you may use in such lessons. Here are some examples:
Quizzes and games
Gamification is a great way to make the material engaging and interactive, enabling your students to get instant feedback and learn something new on the go. If you are teaching Personality Traits offer your students to take an Enneagram test and determine which of the 16 personalities they are.
An extremely entertaining format, where short videos can be packed with new collocations, examples of target grammar, and discussion ideas. Remember, that the videos should be no longer than 5 minutes.
Visual aids are always great for teaching, and infographics combine the visual with the factual.
Checklists and to-do lists are abundant online, filled with authentic expressions used every day by native speakers. You may ask your students to put together a list themselves, tick the things they have done or are planning to do. “10 Ways To Show Your Love” for St. Valentine’s day, or “Spring Cleaning Checklist” with phrases like “declutter your flat”, “wash the curtains” and “air the room” to talk about home and housework.
Short scrolling pages
A one-stop scrolling page allows users to access all the information they need on a topic in one, easy-to-follow format. This makes it simple for learners to extract the key highlights of a topic and understand the order of linear processes.
Information is easier to digest which results in higher knowledge retention. You offer only small blocks of learning which can be revised regularly. It is also easier to plan for revision and recirculate new knowledge.
It is also much easier to consume and does not require prolonged focus and attention. Most adult learners have to deal with work tasks all the time and finding 90 minutes for a lesson is hard enough, but they may still get constantly distracted by messages and calls.
People spend most of their day in front of various screens, which puts enormous strain on the eyes and having short action-packed lessons can remove some of that strain.
Talking of the action, microlearning can be highly engaging and entertaining if done right, without long pauses, fillers, and other things that may occur during regular lessons.
It may be difficult to see the bigger picture when every lesson focuses on only small portions of the information and has short-term aims. It may also be not appropriate when there is a large amount of information that needs to be covered, as in exam preparation classes or getting a job abroad.
Achieving the right level of detail may be also challenging for teachers because you have to sieve through the information and choose only the most necessary.
Have you ever used Microlearning in your practice? What were the results? If not, how could you apply it to your students?
How to Learn a Language: Tiny Steps Every Day
Go small. Practice every day. Make mistakes.
Do you see those puppies looking down the stairs? They’re curious. They want to give it a try, but aren’t quite sure how to climb down. Puppies climbing up and down stairs for the first time are pretty adorable. And super clumsy.
But, they figure it out. Because they keep trying. One tiny step and one tumble at a time.
And, that’s how we learn a language as kids. We’re curious. We ask questions. We try out words. We use them wrong and don’t care. It helps to be adorable.
As adults, we’re less adorable. But, the same approach still works. Try one clumsy step at a time. Fall down. Get back up. Keep trying.
Now that school’s out for the summer, our family project is to learn French. It’s a fun diversion after many months of shelter-in-place. For my husband and the kids, French is brand-new. For me, it’s more of a review.
(Once upon a time I was fluent in French. But, I’m here to tell you that if you don’t use it, you will lose it. Sad, but true. It takes work to get it back.)
So, how are we going about this project? Three key principles:
Same time every day
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes
In productivity lingo, there’s a concept called habit stacking. Basically, this is the idea that you pair your new habit with an existing habit. Your existing habit is already an ingrained part of your routine, so your new habit gets to piggyback off that.
In our case, the existing habit for our family is that we sit down to eat dinner together every evening. The new habit is that we practice French at dinner.
It gives us something fun to talk about, and the kids are really into it. We practice one new word every day. Super simple. Learning a new word is just part of our dinnertime conversation now.
A word a day
A language is a big thing, so much to learn. But, you have to start somewhere, with bite-sized pieces. A little bit every day. A word a day feels doable, and over time one word adds up to many words.
We’re starting with some of the most commonly used, high-frequency, high-impact words. For example, the verb “to be”.
So, here’s how it goes:
On Monday, we practice I am in French. On Tuesday, we add you are. On Wednesday, we learn he/she is. And so on. By the end of the week, we have the whole verb conjugated in the present tense.
So, our dinnertime conversation goes like this. We take turns using the word-of-the-day in French with the rest of the sentence in English. Just substitute the italicized words below for their French equivalents (or whatever other language you want to learn), and roll with it:
I am a runner. I am a mom. I am excited to learn French. I am happy today. I am enjoying this delicious pasta.
At some point, you run out of things to say, and then you just say whatever comes into your head, even if it’s goofy or doesn’t make a lot of sense.
I am a taco. I am a cherry tomato. I am a big fan of hot sauce.
Whatever. It doesn’t really matter what you say. Just that you’re saying it, and that the French words for I am are starting to come automatically, rolling off your tongue without thinking about it. The whole point is to develop a sense of ease with the language.
Just talk, don’t worry about making mistakes
You will make mistakes. You might sound silly. Who cares? Everyone makes mistakes. Don’t worry about it. Learn from your mistakes of course, but don’t let them hold you back.
At some point in learning a language, you might sound ridiculous. You might say something that offends, without knowing it and definitely without meaning to offend. This is to be expected.
In a way, these mistakes are golden. A true gift. Because they are learning opportunities.
One of my memorable goofs was asking the train station cashier in Paris for a packet of train tickets. She responded by asking if I wanted Marlboro or Marlboro Lights. They didn’t sell cigarettes at the ticket booth, of course. She was poking fun at the fact that I’d used the wrong French word. She then gave me the correct word with a slightly wicked smile, and rang up my transaction.
Was I embarrassed? Sure, of course I was. But, I remembered the correct word after that. I still do, even though the train station incident was decades ago.
Just know that every mistake is an opportunity to learn.
There’s no better time to get started than now. If you’ve wanted to learn a new language, get out a dictionary and pick one word. Just one! Study it, write it, say it, use it, get goofy with it. Repeat tomorrow. And the next day.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” — Lao Tzu
How do you plan for short classes and students, who have no time for homework?
Hello, dear readers! My name is Polina, I have been teaching English for over 10 years and I have also been a teacher-trainer for the last 5 years. I try to keep up with the new trends and I love learning new ways to make my lessons even more efficient and enjoyable. Sharing this knowledge with my colleagues, learning from their experience, is another passion of mine.
Over the years I have had classes of various lengths from 30 minutes to three hours, and sometimes it is hard to say which take more effort to plan for. But I have recently taken notice of the fact that a lot of students have no time for long lessons or homework and seem to veer towards short but frequent classes. Planning for one short lesson is of course easier, but you must keep in mind the whole curriculum. I always try to find the right balance between various skills and aspects I am teaching, and short lessons pose a certain challenge there.
First of all, I try to focus on just a few aims for every lesson. It can be learning new vocabulary or practicing a grammar rule, but I always think about the ways to make my students use them over and over again. So, I may start with a lead-in, where we look at a picture and brainstorm, then I introduce new vocabulary (almost always in collocations!), and ask students to do a gap-filling exercise. But these are no simple sentences, they are questions! And now students have to read them again and answer, which ideally should compel them to use the new lexis.
Secondly, I have noticed, that having shorter lessons has enabled me to recirculate the material in a more organic way, incorporating revision every now and then. I will take the same questions and remove the collocations, asking my students to recollect them (or better I will show them their own answers). Or if we did listening, I will erase the script, which we always use to mine for new vocabulary, and leave only the target chunks of words, asking my students to recreate the text from memory, leaning on the words left. And finally, I can use some Workbook exercises, that we didn’t initially do!
To answer the second part of the question, I never demand doing homework from my students. When I was only learning to become a teacher, my mentor said a phrase that change my view on it: “If the student can’t do the homework without mistakes, it won’t help them. If they can do it, they don’t need it”. I am definitely not as categorical about it today, but I am firmly convinced that homework must be meaningful. I ask my students how much time they can devote to individual practice and give only as much as they can do. The best examples are answering a question every day in writing or in a voice message to me, learning sets of words in Quizlet, or watching a video on Youtube.
I understand, there are many ways, and I will always keep looking for something better, something new and innovative!
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