How to turn micro and mobile learning into killer applications for 2017

Genny Dixon reports on the key challenges and opportunities that surfaced during the exchange with Will Thalheimer on day 1 of Learning Technologies

As organisations turn to mobile solutions to help their staff access learning resources on the go, they will be facing the issue of whether to develop bespoke applications or simply ensure that their content can be viewed effectively via a mobile browser. The mobile app can offer much more. It can offer features that underpin and improve the way in which we learn, such as retrieval practice, spaced learning, first time failing and threaded micro-learning. 

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In today’s fast-moving organisations, few people have the luxury of time to learn via long e-learning courses unless they are highly motivated. Subscription learning – where ‘nuggets’ of short learning content such as scenario-based questions, reflection questions, discussions, diagnostics as well as micro content – are threaded and selected dynamically on the basis of anticipated learner needs, fits in far better with our busy, highly mobile, tech-enabled lifestyles.

One success story from the world of Higher Education was in the provision of tablets for nursing students. Not only could the University ensure quality and consistency, and provide ready access to learning resources at the point of need, but they were also benefiting from being able to push content and monitor usage – and success.

Thalheimer put the emphasis on ‘using’ rather than ‘authoring’ mobile apps, and the group could certainly share many examples of how they used – and relied on – their own favourite apps. Think Uber, Facebook, Fabulous. But whilst we appreciate the benefits of convenience, speed and sheer practicality in the ‘app’ version of some popular web tools, we turn to the browser-based version when were back at the laptop. Is the App dead? Not by a long chalk. The ease of communication does have its drawbacks however, and using Facebook was a case in point. We suffer from increased content marketing together with the way in which we naturally seek out and are presented with information that supports our own bias.

Discussing the way in which using apps can solve learning problems was most thought-provoking. Successful apps provide practical solutions, a reason to visit – and to keep on visiting – and to integrate humanity. When we forget – we need reminders such as job aids. When we are ‘unconsciously incompetent’, we need diagnostics. When our memory lapses, we need retrieval practice. When we are flagging, elements of gamification can keep us on track.

The following practical ideas came from the discussion on how to turn micro and mobile learning into killer applications for 2017

Practical idea 1
Think ‘use’ rather than ‘author’.  Do you know what the killer apps are that your learners are using already? Share the ones they find most helpful, for example as communication or productivity tools.

Practical idea 2
Understand the spacing effect. Repeating the learning point at intervals helps embed it into practice. Short or long spaces? The jury is still out, but long spaces got our vote.

Practical idea 3
Use micro-learning to support integration. Use short learning nuggets to follow on from courses to support integration of the learning points in the workflow.

Practical idea 4
Widen your horizons. Read articles and follow thought-leaders that do not simply echo your own point of view.

Practical idea 5
Failing leads to learning. Gaming enthusiasts certainly understand this point. First-time failing helps people to select new options, follow different paths or think of new solutions.

Practical idea 6
Integrate humanity with the learning. Think of how we love our fitness, health, social, music apps and why they appeal. Fabulous.

In summary

The App is certainly not dead, despite the ease of use of browser tools in a mobile environment. Apps can help solve learning problems like motivation, engagement, memory and information retrieval as well as offering fast, practical and attractive communications. Apps provide an ideal vehicle for threaded micro-learning and spaced learning, but it is the integration of humanity that keeps us coming back for more and turns something that just ‘works’ into something ‘world-class’.

Find out more about micro- and subscription learning at  or Thalheimer’s book at follow @WillWorkLearn or visit LinkedIn:

About the exchange programme:

The LT Exchange is a free opportunity to have round table discussions with some of the world’s most influential learning sector thought-leaders – and is available to all L&D practitioners visiting the Learning Technologies exhibition.

A collaboration between Learning Technologies and Towards Maturity, the Exchanges programme was launched in 2011 with the aim to share effective practice, thought leadership and stimulate innovation in L&D.

This year, the Learning Technologies Exchanges was co-hosted with Training Journal and tackled the practical issues facing today’s L&D leaders: supporting change, leveraging networks, mobile learning, micro learning and how to get ahead with technology in 2017. 


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