Monday, November 18, 2013


The last post was an introduction to online learning, who I thought it was best for and why I thought it was a great way to reach a lot of different students. Today I'm going to talk about one of those ways: Microlectures. Microlectures are one of the greatest strengths of online/distance learning; this post will tell you why.

Educause is a great little site with more information about educational technology than you can shake a stick at. One of its initiatives is the "7 Things" series, great little PDF files with concise information about different technological tools out there for educators to take advantage of. There are a variety of topics and each 7 Things PDF includes the answer to the questions:
  1. What is it?
  2. How does it work?
  3. Who's doing it?
  4. Why is it significant?
  5. What are the downsides?
  6. Where is it going?
  7. What are the implications for higher learning?
As a teacher looking to improve the quality of my online delivery there are a multitude of different 7 Things articles that I can glean information from. Useful information. The one I'm going to focus on for this post is something called a microlecture.

Microlectures  are just what they sound like. A lecture that is tiny. Short. To the point. No rambling allowed. Macie Hall, the Senior Instructional Designer for the Center for Educational Resources quotes research from Wankat, Hartley and Davies:
"Research has shown that a student's attention span during lectures decreases after fifteen minutes. Once you lecture past that time, students retain significantly less information. Hartley and Davies suggested that breaking up a lecture into smaller segments could help keep students engaged." (Dec. 2012)
This is something I have found to be true in my teaching experience. You get a few minutes to get information across to students in a face-to-face classroom. You have to engage and teach in a window of time then move on to an activity to keep the kids learning. Otherwise they are staring off into space, tapping their pencils, trying to throw erasers at each other. You know what I mean. You've been there.

Online makes it that much more difficult to keep students' attention. There are so many more distractions at home: the dog needs to be let out, there's a TV show on, a video game is begging to be played, your kids need to eat lunch, etc. Most people don't have the time or patience to sit and watch a thirty minute video (much less an hour or more) and pay 100% attention to it.

Insert microlecture here! By keeping a lecture five minutes or less you not only keep the students focused but you, as a teacher, have to figure out what is important. What are the big ideas the students need to know? How can I say this concisely but still have it understandable?

For me, I think making a list of big topics and then recording a microlecture for each would be the best way to go about doing this. This way the students have access to the information and they don't have to wade through a long recording to review the sections they need. You have multiplying fractions down but need to work on adding them? Here's the microlecture based just on adding fractions. You understand the branches of government but not the levels? Here's one on the levels of government. It helps individualize students concerns and needs, meeting them at their level. That's one of my keys in education. Meeting the student's needs, not just playing a numbers game.

This article has a good point, contrasting traditional learning to microlectures and flipped classrooms.
"Many instructors lecture for fifty minutes because the schedule in the timetable says fifty minutes. Is the decision on duration based on good pedagogy or on the logistics of moving students through our buildings in an efficient manner? What is considered a "lesson" may only require five minutes of explanation or demonstration. What often happens is that the instructor will throw multiple five to ten minute lessons into a fifty minute class – up until now there hasn’t really been any other option to deliver the lessons. With microlecturing those lessons can be discretely packaged and offered to the students via the network. For the instructor, the creation of a 5-10 minute lecture is a lot less effort than sitting down for a full hour" (Feb. 2013)
 The article also comments on how this saves time in the long run. At first it takes time to record and make the videos. But, in the end, you'll have those videos made for years to come. They will only need occasional updates. And anything that saves time in the long run is a win in my book.

In another article from Online Cl@ssroom, Rob Kelly talks about how microlectures do nothing but improve online courses. Kelly points out that microlectures provide "cognitive presence" which assists students in engaging with the content. Kelly also states that "because of the short duration of each microlecture, students tend to listen/view them repeatedly." Having that short time frame and easy access makes the learners more willing to review the material which helps cement things in their heads. The article ends with some interesting statistics: "Penrose cites two statistics as indications of success: the completion rates for courses built on microlectures rose to 80 percent, up from 50 percent before this design using this method; and the proportion of students who completed courses with a C or better rose by 30 percent."

Microlectures are a great initiative for online learning. They meet a lot of criteria that I look for when making and/or taking an online class. Concise, to the point, meeting the student's needs individually, and even creating social presence by just being in the video. The ability to rewatch what is needed is invaluable. The short time span keeps everyone involved. Microlectures are an important part of any online learning class.

Next time: Are you a digital native or immigrant? What does that mean for your future in online learning?


Educause. (2012). 7 Things You Should Know About Microlectures. Retrieved from:

Hall, Macie. (Dec 2012). Microlectures. The Innovative Instructor. Retrieved from:

Kelly, Rob. (Mar 2010). Using 'Microlectures' to Improve Your Online Courses. Online Cl@ssroom. Retrieved from:

Tubbs, John. (Feb 2013). Microlectures=Big Learning Opportunities. CITES Academic Technology Service. Retrieved from:

No comments:

Post a Comment