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Have you ever taken a productive trip to the bathroom?  If you haven’t, you should try it!  After all, what’s good for Google should be good for you and me. Before you laugh, here’s the story

Google uses one-pagers known as “testing on the toilet” — consisting of topics such as testing for code — that are placed in restrooms in the engineering buildings, or one-pagers titled “learning on the loo” that contain topics relevant to non-engineering employees.

This idea is called ‘Bite sized learning,’ and it centers around the idea of trying to cram useful information into a form factor that can be consumed without getting bored or interrupting the rhythm of your life.

Julie Clow worked on team effectiveness and leadership at Google for five years, and is the author of The Work Revolution: Freedom and Excellence for All. She says micro-learning is “discrete chunks of information or skill-based knowledge that can be delivered in short bursts of time”.

Smart companies are using it to stay nimble with better-trained personnel.  If you work in a rapidly-evolving field, it’s not possible to educate employees in one massive, six-year masters-degree-sized block.  You need your employees to be educated in real-time, as part of their working duties. We as individuals can take a leaf from the corporate playbook and use the little snatches of time What A Busy Day: 10 Savvy Ways To Find Time For Your Personal Projects What A Busy Day: 10 Savvy Ways To Find Time For Your Personal Projects Do you have a passion that is secretly throbbing inside your head? What is holding you back? Maybe, the clock runs out after a grueling workday and an hour of commute. Let's steal time. Read More for bite-sized learning every day.

Here are a few tools for the setting up a micro-learning habit for free. From the general to the more specialized topics.

Highbrow

Highbrow

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40 courses in seven topics.

Study topics like brain-twisting paradoxes to studying the history of art. Or, take bites of art, history, health, philosophy, psychology, science, and nature. The courses are delivered to your inbox daily, and you need to invest just five minutes or a bit more on them. The site is continuously adding courses.

Treat the 10-day courses as introductory primers. For instance, if you want to be more creative this year but don’t have the time to sit through a TED playlist on creativity, a mini-course like Spark Your Creativity takes you through them in just 15 minutes day.

Hack Design

HackDesign

Lessons from design pros in your inbox, every week. 

The next step forward for creatives is to learn a bit about design. Hack Design is a capsule you can use to learn at your own pace with email lessons. from the introductory “why design and why it matters”, the lessons take you through the fundamentals of user interface design and topics like typography. A page on design tools the industry uses is very helpful.

Curated by some of the best design pros, consider this your free field guide. If you want to make your first iPhone app one day, the inbox could be a nice place to begin today.

Daily Bits Of

DailyBits

60 free courses to go with your morning coffee.

One small lesson each day. From a few days to a few months. That’s how Daily Bits Of describes its microlearning effort. You just need to give them your email address, and the micro portions start arriving in bite-sizes. Some of the courses are in Swedish, but there’s enough among the 60-odd courses to keep the English speakers interested.

I have been trying out DBO for the past month, and it has proved useful to know a bit more about topics I wouldn’t have had the patience to study otherwise. Something like SEO or copywriting is a required skill for me, but learning about hack programming is also great for little bits of learning every day 6 Ways To Learn Something New Online Everyday 6 Ways To Learn Something New Online Everyday The Internet is a double-edged sword - it can be used to procrastinate the day away, or it can be used to learn something new everyday. Here at MakeUseOf, we're particularly focused on the latter.... Read More . Thanks to the site, you can create your own course and dish out micro-lessons to others.

Your Primer

Primer from Google

Marketing lessons for startups from Google.

We started out story with a Google anecdote. This is Google’s contribution to microlearning adventures. A bit self-promotional admittedly, but when it comes to Google, knowing a little more about it never harms. Especially, if you are in the business of online marketing. Working on a startup? Get up to speed with case studies, quizzes, tasks, and insights from marketing experts.

With our 5-minute lessons, you can learn new topics quickly, get practical advice, and even refresh yourself on marketing basics.

Your Primer is an experimental app designed for the on-the-move crowd who want to take in some tactical knowledge between coffee breaks. The app also works offline. Expect more topics to be added soon as Google subtly pivots this around Google business products.

Download: iOS | Android

60-Minute Physics

60-minute Physics

60 bite-size lessons to help grasp physics. 

You wouldn’t want to be caught flatfooted when your 10-year old starts asking about nitrogen fixation. Henry Reich takes you through the world of natural phenomena and makes learning science cool again. 60-Minute Physics is a bite-size package of his popular YouTube learning channel — MinutePhysics. 60 of them delivered in one-minute timelapse drawings. Something, the most science-blind among us can not only understand, but God forbid — enjoy!

Here’s the first lesson:

Get access to a monitored community, the ability to download videos anytime and track your progress as you learn.The course is free, but you can always sign-up to any of the donation packages that helps Henry continue his mission.

Grovo

Grovo

126 different topic areas. Over 4,000+ videos.

Master 160 tools such as Gmail, Facebook, Dropbox, Evernote and YouTube with the help of 60 or 90-second videos. Grovo is an educational platform that’s all about new digital and workplace skills for the 21st Century. It is tailored for individuals and teams who are looking to shrink the skills gap with bite-sized chunks of elearning in the midst of a busy day.

As you can see in the screen above, Grovo has broken down digital skills into competencies. You can also take a test to identify your skills gap. As you get on a learning track, Grovo keeps score and measures the progress in your digital competency. As you go beyond the introductory lessons, you can unlock more topics. Grovo has paid plans for unlimited access which work out to $8.25 per month for an annual plan. Try it with a 7-Day trial.

Coursmos

Coursmos

10,500 micro-courses. Lessons in 3 minutes of less.

Coursmos defines itself as the microlearning platform for an attention-challenged generation. Coursmos was developed for iOS first, both for learning and teaching micro-courses. And you can consume a short course within the span of a commercial. Powered by professional and crowdsourced content, Coursmos is a mix of free and paid content. From higher education to spirituality, there’s enough content to keep you engaged. A paid subscription plan of $8.88 per month gives you unlimited access to all the content.

Coursmos is also a great platform if you want to dip your toes into the elearning industry. Create micro-courses around you interests and hobbies for a share of the revenue.

Download: iOS | Android

UnlockYourBrain

32 opportunities to learn something new each day.

This Android app has taken a habit (unlocking our phones Unlock Your Brain: Improve Your Mental Abilities Simply By Unlocking Your Phone [Android 2.2+] Unlock Your Brain: Improve Your Mental Abilities Simply By Unlocking Your Phone [Android 2.2+] Read More ) and spun it around learning. Every time you unlock your phone, you have to solve a small learning challenge. The right answer unlocks the phone…but (thankfully) you can skip that part if you want to quickly inside. It’s a novel way to learn languages, history, math, plus other subjects with the learning packs available in the marketplace. Users can upload customized learning packs for any kind of topic.

Download: Android (free)

Can You Acquire New Skills in Short Bursts?

That’s the billion dollar question, as more startups emerge to fill the skills gap. Admittedly, it’s difficult to learn something to an employable level with just short video lessons — or even a six month course. But microlearning has its place for both businesses and the individual. Micro-courses have a valuable role to play in the new age of mobile learning.

Individuals can use microlearning to gain their first foothold on any subject. Small lessons help to build momentum towards a learning goal, and help ward off procrastination How to Kill Motivation Sucking Vampires & Finish What You Start How to Kill Motivation Sucking Vampires & Finish What You Start Life projects that are stalled? Yes, we all have them. The story is always the same. We start with an idea but never see it through. Break the brittle obstacles and persevere with these tips. Read More . I take a few of them to see if the topic interests me enough for a bigger investment of time and effort. I also tap into the concise explanations to untie more complex issues. Learning in small bits is better than not learning at all.

What about you? Have you tried microlearning to learn a new language Five Free Apps to Help You Learn A Foreign Language Five Free Apps to Help You Learn A Foreign Language Whether you're gearing up to go on your summer holidays, studying for exams, or just want to expand your mind, it's always a great time to learn a foreign language. Read More , a new skill 5 Ways To Quickly Improve Your Technical Skills Without Spending A Dime 5 Ways To Quickly Improve Your Technical Skills Without Spending A Dime People argue that training costs money - but for technical skills that just isn't true. You can improve your technical skills without paying - assuming you already have internet access that is, which is a... Read More , or start a new hobby Learn Today & Earn Tomorrow: 8 Hobbies the Web Can Help You Start for Fun Learn Today & Earn Tomorrow: 8 Hobbies the Web Can Help You Start for Fun You can learn literally anything on the Internet -- and one of those might just go on to pay your bills someday. Sharpening your skills online is an open door to improving the quality of... Read More ? Name the tools you use, and your experience with them.

Image Credits: green apple Via Shutterstock

  1. Jake Russo
    February 22, 2015 at 3:17 pm

    I'm surprised http://ankisrs.net/ isn't on here. Such a great piece of software, I use it everyday to learn new languages, command-line tools and other technologies. Lots of shared decks for other things too and creating your own is pretty easy but there's tons of depth/complexity so it can be a little intimidating to make your own.

    (BTW, hiting tab in the comment box pulls you up to the tips newsletter email input box)

    • Saikat
      February 24, 2015 at 3:29 am

      I got tired of covering Anki :)

      Just copy-paste this in your browser search bar and you will see what I mean:
      anki site:makeuseof.com

  2. CJ Cotter
    February 7, 2015 at 4:04 am

    What I need is to micro-learn topics of my own choosing, not someone else's packaged subjects. I cannot read something and then remember it 5 minutes later. I almost didn't graduate from high school because of this learning disability. I could never attend college. Yet, I'm a non-degree production engineer at where I work. All of the complex programs I work with daily I learned through piece-by-piece micro-learning.

    There are things I need to learn now, but I need to figure out how to slowly micro-learn them. I would welcome any and all suggestions.

    Thanks for the interesting article.

    • Saikat
      February 7, 2015 at 7:11 am

      Inspiring! You micro-learned your way to production engineering. That says a lot more than I could put in the article above.

      From my own limited experience, micro-learning becomes easier if we can organize the material beforehand and stick it to a schedule. The Web is a boon and a bane. There's just too much information for us to sift the wheat from the chaff.

      Microlearning could be as simple as reading a page every day, or it could be a bit more geeky with Learning Playlists. If you are a visual learner, you can also set up YouTube with curated videos.

      Microlearning has emerged as a new area in instructional design, so we should continue to see new developments in this area.

  3. Guy
    February 7, 2015 at 1:36 am

    This is interesting and pretty grounded in neuroscience - at least according to a seminar I attended on it.

    People become habituated (gradually tuning out of things) to things around them so much faster than, say, 20 years ago.

    Habituation is Influenced by 2 factors:
    1. Stimulus Internal Variation - degree of change over time. Less change means faster habituation.
    2. Subjective Arousal - perceived novelty and familiarity. Familiarity breeds contempt?

    So, yeah, microlearning has merit based on that. But will it stick?

    According to the seminar, the depth of the level of processing is the key to ownership of the knowledge. The deeper the level of processing, the more people will remember.

    The example given was having a person learn a new word. There are three progressively deeper levels of processing:
    Physical - Have the person write it.
    Phonological - Have them say it, sound it out.
    Semantic - Have them explain what it means.

    Semantic requires more processing so the word sticks longer and better. Made sense to me.

    Microlearning needs to take that step to be truly effective - and it can! So, yes! Bring microlearning on. :)

    • Saikat
      February 7, 2015 at 7:04 am

      I bet you took out your old notes, Guy :)

      Yes. The "level of our engagement" with the topic determines everything. Everything goes back to that old Benjamin Franklin (or was it ancient Chinese wisdom) quote...

      “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

    • Guy
      February 7, 2015 at 7:23 pm

      Guilty as charged! I hoped it added to the conversation. :)

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