I’m a sucker for adages. If you tell me a short, pithy, memorable quote, I’ll probably believe it blindly. And I bet I’m not alone. Think about it: how many times a day do you say or hear phrases like, “Better late than never,” “When in Rome, do as the Romans,” “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” or one of my favorites, “Too many cooks spoil the broth.”
There’s something comforting about these short, pithy sentences. They’re easy to remember, widely applicable, and somehow they just sound true. Which is why writers are always chasing after them. In his essay, “The Short Sentence as Gospel Truth,” Roy Peter Clark urges writers: “Express your most powerful thought in the shortest sentence.” In other words: Think long, write short.
Why does this matter for Microlearning®?
What does the ability to express a powerful thought in a short sentence have to do with creating effective Microlearning? In a word, everything.
At Grovo, we start designing every micro lesson by articulating its key takeaway in one clear, concise and compelling sentence. Crafting this line is hard work, but as we’ve learned, it’s well worth it. Once it’s written, the key takeaway effectively serves as the DNA of the lesson. It’s what learners will remember, and what will spur them to change, grow, and improve their skills. It’s what makes microlearning work.
So what are some examples of this short, memorable sentence, and how does it lead to better Microlearning experiences? I’m glad you asked:
It forces you to focus
A lot of people think Microlearning is all about how short a lesson is. But that’s only part of the story. Great Microlearning is also about packing a meaningful idea into that short amount of time. So how do you know when you’ve found an idea that’s small enough to be micro, but meaningful enough to actually transform how somebody does their job? Your key takeaway will help.
Take this example. In one of our recent lessons about time management, we came up with what we felt was a meaningful yet short key takeaway: “Being busy isn’t the same as being productive.”
That key takeaway did more than just provide a pithy line for one moment of the lesson. It gave the whole lesson focus. Instead of becoming a lesson full of tips to increase productivity, or habits to become more efficient, the lesson became strictly about recognizing if your work is valuable. It’s about identifying the work you need to do, and the other stuff that’s getting in your way.
It gives you guidance
Creating effective Microlearning is largely about making choices. Lots of choices. Only through ruthless elimination and compression can you create a micro lesson that does its job well.
But how do you know what to include and what to leave out? Every topic you can teach will have numerous interesting tidbits, factoids, and tangents that are well worth pursuing. But if you include them all, you’ll end up with a lesson that’s not-so-micro. Enter your hard-won key takeaway.
Your carefully crafted takeaway serves as a sort of guiding strategy in this way. It tells you as much about what to write as it does what not to write.
For instance, in one lesson about managing a team, we came up with this key takeaway: “Leadership isn’t about the leader.”
That line forced us to focus on building a lesson around the skills, as opposed to the traits, that make leaders effective. But it also gave us direction when we searching for the best story to introduce the topic. Rather than telling a story about a role model who exemplified the leadership skills we were championing, we decided to feature a story that focused more on the group being led. If leadership isn’t about the leader, then our lesson shouldn’t be either.
It makes your lesson sticky
Thus far, our trusty key takeaway has helped us focus our lesson, and make the hard choices about how to best bring it to life. But all of that is for naught if the lesson doesn’t stick with our learner.
That’s where—you guessed it—your key takeaway can help with the heavy lifting. Most people are more likely to remember one pithy or poetic sentence than a rambling and nuanced paragraph.
Perhaps my favorite example of a key takeaway that’s made to stick comes from a lesson we did about the impact of microaggressions. The purpose of the lesson was to explain what microaggressions are and to illustrate how they can add up to have a large impact. We wanted to make learners understand how actions that seem small can still hurt people. And then we hit upon the line: “A ton of feathers still weighs a ton.”
On its own, that line might not be self-explanatory. But put in context in the lesson, it creates a lasting memory that sticks with learners long after they complete the lesson. In just eight words, we were able to express a large idea that simply would have gotten lost or been tough to remember had we written any more about it.
In conclusion: Constraints breed creativity
The renowned 20th century Russian composer and pianist Igor Stravinsky said, “The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self.”
That’s what we’re getting at here. When you do the hard work of expressing your micro lesson’s key takeaway in a single sentence that’s bursting with insight, then—and only then—will you be in a position to let your imagination take the reins and create a learning moment that’s short, memorable, and truly transforms the person who encounters it. That’s how you create great Microlearning.