Introduction to key concepts in five minutes or less: The ‘did you know?’ Microlecture series



The traditional, hour-long lecture that is so familiar to on-the-ground undergraduates has little place in an online learning environment. However, a shorter, more tightly focused microlecture can help engage learners and add a multimedia punch to a course.

Cognitive science indicates that learners have a limited capacity for learning, both in terms of concentration time and processing multiple channels of information, making it imperative that course content be delivered as succinctly as possible (Clark & Mayer, 2008). As online educators seek to add more interactivity to their courses, the microlecture format seemingly offers great potential, allowing students greater ownership of their learning while reducing cognitive load. In addition, the open-ended nature of the follow-up materials provides flexibility for students who need more time to understand the content.

“Microlecture capture” is an umbrella term that describes any technology that allows instructors to record what happens in their classrooms and make it available digitally. Lecture capture is a methodology employed to capture information from a lecture (either a brief concept lecture or a full-length class lecture) in single (e.g., audio only) or multiple (e.g., rich media) channels, with the intent to deliver on-demand lectures to users through a Web-based interface. In its simplest form, lecture capture might be an audio recording made with an iPod. Lecture capture also offers new flexibility for each student’s course of study, because a single lecture could be extracted from a series and viewed separately by any student enrolled at the college or university, promoting ad hoc interdisciplinary research.

“Did You Know?” series
Each week students taking courses such as Healthy Living, Health Promotion and Education, Healthcare Research, and Pharmacology are provided a set of Did You Know? microlectures. The snippets are no more than three slides containing informative content that provides interesting facts to know, learn, and/or ponder. Students are also provided three credible Web resources to explore. The microlectures are at a level to encourage a student to reflect and collaborate on the weekly topic(s) and learning outcomes.

Concept and technology used
Microlectures (snippets) are simple multimedia presentations that are 90 seconds to five minutes long. They focus on a specific concept or skill associated with the course’s learning objectives. Microlectures allow students to access instruction on a specific concept or skill they need to practice.

PowerPoint can be used to provide the framework of the microlecture snippet. Using PowerPoint as the framework, instructors can compose a script for each slide or concept. PowerPoint can also act as a storyboard for one’s script. Scripting provides a way to organize thoughts and concepts to ensure that key concepts are not left out. Developing a script will also save time.

The following are tools that can be used to develop microlectures:

Brainshark: Brainshark allows an educator to create a presentation that includes voice-enriched video, polls, and questions. It enables an educator to track a presentation once it has been viewed. Another feature is the program’s ability to work on mobile devices. Brainshark offers the Brainshark app, which is available for free from the Apple App Store for iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch users.

Screencast-O-Matic: Screencast-O-Matic is a simple tool that allows educators to record what is happening on a computer screen. It is a Java-based Web application used to create screencasts on Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems. Instructors and students who have found value in a screenshot can imagine how useful a screen recording might be to teaching and learning. Educators can use this tool for making instructional videos, especially in a class where students use a lot of new Web tools and need to see how to use them.

Teaching procedures

The following are steps to developing and using microlectures:

1. List the key concepts to convey in the microlecture. A series of phrases will form the core of the microlecture.
2. Write a 15-to-30-second introduction and conclusion. The introduction will provide context for your key concepts.
3. Use a microphone and Web camera to record these three elements. If you want to produce an audio-only lecture, no camera is necessary. The finished product should be 90 seconds to five minutes in length.
4. Design an assignment to follow the lecture that will direct students to readings or activities that will allow them to explore the key concepts.
5. Upload the microlecture and assignment to your learning management system.

Class discussion

After students view a microlecture, I have them participate in a discussion based on it. I typically ask two questions on the content of the microlecture, and students are required to post a minimum of two paragraphs in response to my questions, as well as responses to at least two classmates’ paragraphs about what they discovered or learned.

Clark, R.C., & Mayer, R.E. (2008). E-Learning and the Science of Instruction. Proven Guidelines for Consumers and Designers of Multimedia Learning (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Joe Wiley & Sons Inc.

Author Bio: Julia VanderMolen is an assistant professor and coordinator of health and science at Davenport University.

Reprinted from Introduction to Key Concepts in Five Minutes or Less: Introducing ‘Did You Know?’ Microlecture Series Online Classroom, 13.6 (2013): 3,8. © Magna Publications. All Rights Reserved.
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