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Online Education – Introducing the Microlecture Format

Most college students would likely concur – fifty minute lectures can be a bit much. With current research indicating that attention spans (measured in minutes) roughly mirror a students age (measured in years), it begs the question as to the rationale behind lectures of such length.

teddY-riseDGiven that it is tough to justify the traditional lecture timeframes, it is no surprise to see online educational programs seeking to offer presentations that feature shorter podcasts. But in an astonishing switch, David Shieh of the Chronicle of Higher Education recently took a look at a community college program that features a microlecture format, presentations varying from one to three minutes in length.

The Micro-Lecture
While one minute lectures may be beyond the scope of imagination for any veteran teacher, Shieh reports on the piloting of the concept at San Juan College in Farmington, N.M. The concept was introduced as part of a new online degree program in occupational safety last fall. According to Shieh, school administrators were so pleased with the results that they are expanding the micro-lecture concept to courses in reading and veterinary studies.

The designer of the format, David Penrose, insists that in online education “tiny bursts can teach just as well as traditional lectures when paired with assignments and discussions.” The microlecture format begins with a podcast that introduces a few key terms or a critical concept, then immediately turns the learning environment over to the students.

Penrose, a course designer for SunGard Higher Education, offers the following explanation of the process:

Stephanie Booth“It’s a framework for knowledge excavation,” Penrose tells Shieh. “We’re going to show you where to dig, we’re going to tell you what you need to be looking for, and we’re going to oversee that process.”

More in Line with Current Theory

With educators seeking more active learning environments, the microlecture format seemingly offers great potential. Not only will the process allow students greater ownership of their learning, the more open-ended nature of the follow-up materials should provide greater time variation opportunities for students who may need such time.

But as with all educational developments, the process clearly is not one that can be used for all classes. It clearly will not work for a course that is designed to feature sustained classroom discussions. And while the concept will work well when an instructor wants to introduce smaller chunks of information, it will likely not work very well when the information is more complex.

But just as most writers are taught to say what they need to say but do it in as few words as is necessary to accomplish their goal, the microlecture format similarly requires teachers to get the key elements across in a very short amount of time. Most importantly, it forces educators to think in a new way.

catspyjamasnzInstead of the framework being defined by seat time, the microlecture format ditches the traditional notion that all students must spend the same amount of time in class to receive credit. The concept focuses on what is to be learned and it allows, in the online environment, students of various skills and abilities as much time as they need to digest the learning objectives related to the microlecture.

Given such positives, one would think the format would soon become a critical component of every online course.

For those interested, here are Penrose’s steps to creating a one minute lecture:

1. List the key concepts you are trying to convey in the 60-minute lecture. That series of phrases will form the core of your microlecture.

2. Write a 15 to 30-second introduction and conclusion. They will provide context for your key concepts.

3. Record these three elements using a microphone and Web camera. (The college information-technology department can provide advice and facilities.) If you want to produce an audio-only lecture, no Webcam is necessary. The finished product should be 60 seconds to three minutes long.

4. Design an assignment to follow the lecture that will direct students to readings or activities that allow them to explore the key concepts. Combined with a written assignment, that should allow students to learn the material.

5. Upload the video and assignment to your course-management software.

Flickr photos courtesy of teddY-riseD, Stephanie Booth, and catspyjamasnz.