Microlearning vs. Long Study Sessions: Which is More Efficient?

Posted by Nick Austin on Feb 16, 2021 6:01:03 PM
Nick Austin

Microlearning is often seen as just another buzzword in the world of learning and education. For some, it might even appear to be a way to justify laziness and spending less time studying.

And while on the surface, it may look that way, the reality is entirely different. Microlearning is an extremely effective memory strategy when it comes to studying.

Here's why long study sessions aren't an effective learning strategy compared to microlearning: 

Traditional Studying

Student cramming for an exam

Many students can relate to this situation:

An important exam is coming up, and you don't feel as prepared as you wanted. Filled with feelings of dread and anxiety, you turned to the only viable solution: cramming. You dedicate an entire day to studying until running out of time, energy, or often both.

This scenario is undoubtedly a stressful approach to studying. Even though it's a commonly held belief that this learning method works, it's not a very effective memory strategy. While you may do well on the test after cramming, the likelihood of performing well on a cumulative exam later in the semester is low.

The debate of microlearning vs. long study sessions is a fascinating one. Before exploring microlearning, however, let’s examine why traditional long study sessions aren’t the best learning strategy. 

What’s Wrong With Long Study Sessions?

Student using memory strategy for studying

Many students have probably tried the long study session approach numerous times but have found it completely unenjoyable. You might get off to a good start for the first thirty minutes or so. Eventually, you will experience mental fatigue and find yourself distracted and looking at YouTube or Instagram.

After a few moments of criticizing yourself for getting distracted, you painfully reorient yourself back to studying before finding yourself in the same cycle soon after. The scenario is one of many that orients itself around the debate between microlearning vs. long study sessions. 

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What is Microlearning?

Timer being used for microlearning strategy.

Microlearning involves breaking down your work into smaller, bite-sized pieces to where you can focus on less at a time. The major upside to this approach is that you can focus with greater depth for a shorter time before taking a break when your attention is not as sharp. 

Another benefit of this approach is experiencing a more enjoyable and effective practice for studying. In contrast, lengthy study sessions involve sitting down and trying to force yourself to remain focused and engaged for several hours to complete a large amount of work in one session. Once again, this would be a great solution to studying if it were useful for most students, but that’s not the reality.

The Advantages of Microlearning

The main advantages of microlearning over long study sessions are:

  1. It’s more enjoyable. Knowing you have to focus for ~20 minutes at a time is far more satisfying than trying to concentrate for hours on end.
  2. It’s more effective. Studying for longer than 20 or 25 minutes leads to mental fatigue, which leads to diminishing returns from your effort, a.k.a. poor memory strategy.
  3. It’s more reasonable. In the age of distraction we live in, expecting students to sit for hours uninterrupted while studying is unreasonable. Breaking down study sessions into smaller chunks makes the task seem much more manageable.

Student concentrating on learning strategy in library

While estimates vary on the human attention span, the most commonly stated range is between 10 and 20 minutes. So, while someone may have the willpower required to sit still at a desk for hours at a time, their ability to focus and learn during that period likely diminishes significantly. 

This principle can also be seen in learning strategies like the Pomodoro Technique, which involves working for 25-minute increments before taking short breaks to refresh the mind. 

This shorter attention span for learning is a major reason why PhotoStudy chose to have tutor sessions between 10 and 20 minutes at a time. Any amount beyond that will likely create diminishing returns for the student and negatively impact retention. 

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