Microlearning & ADHD

As many people as 1 in 5 suffer from some form of a learning disability. Learning disabilities fall into a spectrum and are varied in both type and severity. This article will focus on attention deficit disorder in college students and will also discuss the general trend of viewing shorter content of college age students. I will argue that microlearning can lead to better learning outcomes for these populations without impacting the quality and rigor of the curriculum.


Microlearning is an educational trend that has been gaining momentum over the last decade. Microlearning is a way of teaching and delivering content in short specific packets that is user centric. The learner is generally in control of the content that they are viewing. The content itself is generally 4 minutes in length or shorter. According to John Eades (2014) article on microlearning, “By 2025, millennials alone will make up that 75 percent of the workforce. The average attention span of the millennial generation is 90 seconds.”


This statistic of the 90 second attention span can be troubling for some in the older generation where being able to sit still and focus for long periods of time was considered a virtue and the only path to academic success. However, millennials are known to be creative holistic thinkers. Young people are also more likely to absorb content while on the go by using their phone on the mobile internet. They are taught be to concise writers on twitter, getting to the essence of statement in 140 characters. These life style changes and technology changes may also be contributing to the shorter attention spans of millennials.


Educators in higher education often want to challenge their students to be better at focusing by assigning long winded lectures, long complex problem sets and dense readings. While this may make the faculty feel better by projecting their own standard of academic elitism the majority of students are not attaining their learning outcomes and if they are they often are doing so despite the faculty content not because of it.  After interviewing 20 college students in the summer of 2016, I learned that most college students use open educational resources (OER), such as Youtube and Wolfram Alpha, that deliver short and specific information to supplement their education if they did not like the lecturer.


Given that students are using microlearning OER to supplement their college education, faculty, given the opportunity, should convert many of their learning objects to the microlearning format. This does not mean that there should not be a lecture component or that we need to convert a 90 minute lecture to 90 seconds. Microlearning is not about reducing the amount of content, it is about chunking specific content into smaller bite sized pieces for better retention and focus by the students. This does require faculty to think about their lectures in new ways, to really drill down on sub themes and topics.  Assessments can also be chunked into smaller pieces instead of doing a quiz at the end of week a faculty might think about integrating mini quizzes after a 3 minute lecture. Allowing the students the practice or assess what they have learned right after viewing the microlearning segment is an important aspect of this theory.


ADD & ADHD and Microlearning

Attention-Deficit Disorder (ADHD, ADD/ADHD) affects approximately 5% of college students and the general population. The disorder has three different types:


  • AD/HD [ A.D.D. OR ADHD ] Predominantly Combined Type,

  • AD/HD [ A.D.D. OR ADHD ] Predominantly Inattentive Type, and

  • AD/HD [ A.D.D. OR ADHD ] Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Type


Although subtypes affects each learner differently there is evidence that mircolearning will positively impact the learning outcomes for all types of ADHD. Jack Makhlouf, founder of Learning Architect, discusses ADHD and microlearning in his article "Could Microlearning be the Solution for ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder)?" says:


Whether it’s highlighting the benefits of mastering a certain topic or framing the information in a personal way, microlearning works best when the brain connects with the material and recognizes it as important. It weighs the value with the time it takes to learn and judges that the information is worth spending the time to learn: The cure for ADD.


Makhlouf makes the point that for most students with ADD, the issue is not their retention, it’s more about filtering out the noise and information that is distracting and getting to the very essence of the topic. By focusing only on what is most important the student with ADD can better understand and concentrate on what is most important.


Microlearning has many advantages for students with ADHD and for the general college population. The main benefit of microlearning for college age students, regardless of learning disability, is aligning teaching practices with how most of the college students already absorb content e.g. Snapchat, smart phones and Twitter. By aligning teaching practices with the cultural shifts that are happening due to technology, we can expect better learning outcomes. In closing, I recently implemented microlearning in a University of California Irvine math course and we have already seen marked improvements in the midterm scores from last quarter. Prior to microlearning, the midterm average was 71%. After the implementation of microlearning, we have raised the midterm average to 84% on the same exam with a sample size of 60 students. I am planning on collecting more data in the final to backup what I suspect is evidence for better learning outcomes based on microlearning.

College students using smart phones in 2017

Eades, John. (July 6, 2014). Why microlearning Is huge and how to be a part of it. eLearning Industry. Retrieved from https://elearningindustry.com/why-microlearning-is-huge.

Makhlouf, Jack. (July 27, 2015). How can microlearning solve content attention deficit disorder. eLearning Mind. Retrieved from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-can-microlearning-solve-content-attention-deficit-jack-makhlouf/.

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