Scaffolding in Microlearning

How do you incorporate scaffolding in microlearning? How is scaffolding different in microlearning than in longer formats?

First, let’s define scaffolding. Scaffolding is support for learners that gradually fades away until the learner can do the task without support. Think of construction: you use the scaffolding while a skyscraper is being built. When the building is complete, the scaffolding is taken down.

That raises an issue for microlearning. Scaffolding is removed over time, but microlearning doesn’t have the long time span for typical scaffolding. In a two-day course, it’s easy to create multiple opportunities for practice, each with decreasing amounts of scaffolding. In a 5 minute microlearning module, it’s harder to create multiple opportunities for practice.
We have several options for scaffolding with microlearning.

  • Microlearning as Scaffolding
  • Contextual Help
  • Repeated Practice in a Single Microlearning
  • Multiple Microlearning Modules

Microlearning as Scaffolding

Maybe you don’t need to scaffold within a microlearning module. Maybe the microlearning itself is the scaffolding. When we think about the five moments of need, this strategy works best if people are applying what they learned (and may have forgotten) or are solving problems. Microlearning is perfect for refreshers of previous training or to support troubleshooting.

For example, I recently needed to format Word handouts for a PowerPoint presentation. I used to know how to do this, but I’d forgotten where it moved in the current version of Office. I found a 90 second tutorial on YouTube and was able to finish the task. That tutorial was microlearning, and it worked as scaffolding to support my work.

How many times have you gone to YouTube to help you solve a problem? YouTube is full of microlearning. Maybe you need to watch the video the first time you troubleshoot a problem, but the next time you remember the steps without help. That’s scaffolding!

Contextual Help

Another option for scaffolding is offering contextual help within a microlearning module. For example, the Best in Show winner at the eLearning Guild’s DemoFest offered links to hints related to your current action. If you need the help, it’s one click away. If you don’t need it, you can ignore the help and continue with the practice on your own. The winning project is “Microlearning for Teaching Government Contract Basics” by Elizabeth Gusmati, Booz Allen Hamilton and Dan Keckan, Cinecraft Productions. (If you want to see this and the other DemoFest winners, the Guild is hosting a webinar on 4/19/17 sharing the winners.)

Screenshot of Duolingo app with a hint of "midnight" for the German word Mitternacht
Duolingo provides contextual help

Duolingo is an app and website for learning languages that also uses contextual help. It’s a great example of microlearning, using evidence-based practices like spaced learning, interleaved practice, and retrieval practice. You can complete a single interactive lesson in about 5 minutes.

One way Duolingo provides contextual help is by providing hints for specific words. Any underlined word can be clicked to view the translation. When I’m going through lessons, I often need the hint for new words and sometimes as a reminder. Over time, I don’t need that hint any more and I stop using the scaffolding.

Both of these examples of contextual help are pull learning, not push learning. You’re not forcing the support on everyone. You’re making it available to those who want it.

Repeated Practice in a Single Microlearning

You can create more traditional scaffolding with repeated practice within a single microlearning module, especially if your microlearning is mostly (or completely) practice rather than content delivery. Duolingo is almost entirely practice, so this is another strategy they use. For new lessons with new vocabulary, the exercises are heavily weighted toward forced choice options where you select words from a list rather than typing the whole word yourself. As you progress, you do more open-ended typing without the scaffolding of provided choices.

You could use this technique in other short practice modules by providing easier practice with forced choices at the beginning. Over the course of the module, gradually make the practice more complex and fade away the hints. This technique may be easier in a 15-20 minute module than a 3 minute module (although Duolingo proves it’s possible even with very short practice).

Multiple Microlearning Modules

A final option for scaffolding is to provide a series of microlearning modules. In the early modules, provide more scaffolding and support. In the later modules, remove the support. This is more like scaffolding in a longer training, just broken up into small modules over time instead of crammed into a single large course.

Your Ideas

How have you used scaffolding with microlearning? Do you have an idea I missed here? Let me know in the comments.

Scaffolding Image Credit:


ID and E-Learning Links (4/9/17)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Instructional Design and E-Learning Links

ID and E-Learning Links (4/2/17)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Instructional Design & e-Learning Links

What I Learned at LSCon

I had a great experience at the eLearning Guild’s Learning Solutions Conference last week. The days were long, but the time was really valuable. My own session on Avoiding Voice Over Script Pitfalls went very well. I had a very active, engaged audience. We even had a voice over artist and an editor attending, which was perfect for my session. I’ve had some requests to give a virtual version of my session, so stay tuned for that.

It was so much fun to get to meet people in person who I’d only met online. I’ve built so many relationships with people online, but it’s great to see them live and connect a different way.

I took about 30 pages of notes over the 3 days. While everything is still fresh in my mind, I want to record some highlights. This list is one thing I can use from every session I attended. This isn’t necessarily the most important point from the speaker; in fact, some of these came from tangents. I’m focusing on what I think I can apply in my own work.

Information on all sessions can be found on the LS Con website.

Tim Gunn: A Natty Approach to Learning and Education

“There’s nothing more powerful than the word no.” Gunn talked about this in terms of advocating for the intellectual property rights for designers, but I think this applies to working with clients and SMEs as well.

Connie Malamed: Crash Course in Information Graphics for Learning

I loved the ideas for data visualization from this presentation. I don’t do infographics often, but I do need to present data and charts in courses (including one of my current projects). My big takeaway is that I need to do more sketching for charts. I’ve started to do more pencil and paper sketching for course layouts thanks to Connie’s last book, but visual brainstorming for charts would be helpful too.

Mark Sheppard: Building a Learning and Social-Collaborative Ecosystem in Slack

One note is that Learning Locker is working with xAPIs that can talk to Slack and pull data. Even without xAPI, you can get other data from Slack, like how many emojis were used to answer a poll.

Julie Dirksen: Diagnosing Behavior Change Problems

How many times has a client or SME given you a vague objective like, “Improve customer service”? That’s a nice business goal, but what does that mean for measurable performance? What behavior do you want to change? Julie shared her “photo test” for identifying behaviors. What would that behavior look like if you took a photo or video of it? Asking that question can help get to an observable behavior you can measure.

Karen Kostrinsky: Storytelling for Learning Impact

Think about the titles for your courses. What’s the most important takeaway? How can you put that takeaway in the title?

This session also had some discussion around the difference between scenarios and stories. Some people raised objections to using stories. I’m planning some future blog posts around those objections and questions.

Glen Keane: Harnessing Creativity in a Time of Technological Change

My favorite quote (I’ve already used it with a client during a video call): “Technology is like a 3-year-old at a formal dinner. Just when you want it to be at its best behavior, it starts acting up.” On a more serious note, Keane talked about how creativity means he can see it in his head, but he has to figure out how to get you to see it too. That’s a challenge we face creating elearning. We can see it in our heads (or the SMEs can see it in their heads), but we have to get it in a format learners can use.

Jane Bozarth: New Ideas for Using Social Tools for Learning

Jane shared lots of inspiration in this session (who knew that the TSA had a great Instagram account?). What I’m going to use first is a Pinterest board for sharing book lists. I started a draft version, but I want to switch the order (I forgot to load them backwards) and move this to a professional account rather than my personal one.

Jennifer Hofmann: Mindsets, Toolsets, and Skillsets for Modern Blended Learning

One quote stood out: “If you can test it online, you can teach it online.” When you think about blended learning, think about goals and objectives first, then assessment. Decide on the instructional strategy, technique, and technology after you figure out the assessment. Maybe some parts of the skill can’t be taught and assessed online, but think about the parts that can be.

Will Thalheimer: Neuroscience and Learning: What the Research Really Says

The big takeaway is that we should be skeptical of claims that we can use neuroscience to improve learning. The reality is that we don’t know enough about neuroscience to really improve learning design yet. Sometimes what people claim is neuroscience (which means fMRI data) is actually earlier cognitive psychology research with an incorrect label.

Panel: What’s Wrong with Evaluation?

This was with Will Thalheimer, Julie Dirksen, Megan Torrance, and Steve Forman, with JD Dillon moderating. Can’t you tell from just the list of names that this was a good discussion?

Julie Dirksen made the point that we as instructional designers don’t get enough feedback on our own work. We don’t really know whether what we’re doing is working or not. It takes 10,000 hours (give or take) to become an expert, but that only works if you get the right kind of feedback to continuously improve your practice.

On a related note, Megan Torrance asked, “Why don’t we do A/B testing on training?” I saw an example of that at the DemoFest, but I admit I’ve never done it myself. Maybe there’s a way to set that up for a future project so I can test what method really works (and get feedback for my own practice in the process).

Jennifer Nilsson: Best Practices Training Should Steal from Software Development

We talk a lot about stealing agile methods from software development, but Jennifer’s presentation was about other proven practices. For example, software developers add comments to their code to explain what something does and why it was done a certain way. We can’t always add comments to our development tools the way you can in true coding, but we can add notes in an off screen text box. That’s an easy solution that will save a lot of time if I have to go back to a complicated interaction a year later.

Diane Elkins: Responsive Design: A Comparison of Popular Authoring Tools

The first thing I’m going to change as a result of this session is what questions I ask clients after they say they want a mobile solution. I haven’t been asking enough follow up questions to understand what clients really mean by “responsive.” Do they mean tablets only? Are they OK with landscape only for phones? Is a scalable solution enough, or do they really want it fully responsive (adaptive)?

Julia Galef: Embracing a Mindset of Continuous Learning

We all use motivated reasoning sometimes and ignore evidence that doesn’t support the outcome we want. One way to check if you’re vulnerable to self-deception on a specific topic is the “button test.” Imagine you could press a button and find out the absolute, complete truth about something. If you find yourself hesitating to push that button, you might be vulnerable to motivated reasoning on that topic. If you know that, you can be aware of your cognitive biases and be more careful.


I took photos during the sessions and of the lovely sketchnotes taken for many sessions (including sessions I didn’t attend). Email readers, you may need to click through to the post to see the gallery of images.

I’m Speaking at LS Con

I’m presenting a session on Avoiding Voice Over Script Pitfalls. for the eLearning Guild’s Learning Solutions Conference. If you’re attending the conference, it’s session LS403 on Wednesday afternoon. (Unfortunately, I’m opposite Michael Allen and several other promising sessions. Sigh.) If you’re planning to attend the conference, I hope to meet you in person. This is the first conference I’ve attended in several years, and I’m excited to connect with people I only know online.

Learning Solutions Conference and Expo. I'm Speaking.

Here’s the official description:

You asked your voice-over artist for a natural, conversational recording, but what you got back is stiff and formal. You waste time going back and forth with voice-over talent about pronunciation or rewording. Too often, you need to re-record voice-over due to errors or confusion. You need a process to make your script writing more efficient and effective.

In this session, you will learn one proven technique you can use to avoid many voice-over script pitfalls, regardless of whether you use professional voice-over talent or record it yourself. You’ll also learn how to identify and correct common errors and how to adapt your writing style for more engaging, conversational narration. You’ll practice editing some sample scripts during the session so you can immediately apply what you learn. You will also receive a review checklist you can take with you and share with your team to improve the quality and consistency of your scripts.

More posts to come about LS Con!