Introduction to Microcontent
This is a microcontent introduction to microcontent.
Mobile technologies have transformed the way we access information. Michael Lindner (1) points out that we have the opportunity to access content “like a digital extension of mind: like being surrounded by a cloud of microcontent dynamically gathering and re-structuring in every moment”.
Our use of microcontent in 2016 as “low cost, high value content” (2) has some important precursors that have been enabled by the emergence, refinement and extension of the social (3) and semantic Web. As Arnaud Leene points out, microcontent is not new, it has been with us for centuries “We just did not call it that way”(4).
The precursors include:
George Miller’s (5) discussion of information processing. He proposes:
we must recognize the importance of grouping or organizing the input sequence into units or chunks. Since the memory span is a fixed number of chunks, we can increase the number of bits of information that it contains simply by building larger and larger chunks, each chunk containing more information than before. (My emphasis)
His conclusion lays a foundation for subsequent conversations about microcontent:
the span of absolute judgment and the span of immediate memory impose severe limitations on the amount of information that we are able to receive, process, and remember. By organizing the stimulus input simultaneously into several dimensions and successively into a sequence of chunks, we manage to break (or at least stretch) this informational bottleneck. (5:12)
Jakob Nielsen’s (6) suggestion that microcontent “needs to be pearls of clarity” and should be “an ultra-short abstract of its associated macrocontent”. His interest in the usability of human-made objects encouraged him to recommend that online headlines “must be absolutely clear when taken out of context”, written in plain language and able to stand on their own. This clarity should be available in the first 11 characters of text (12).
Anil Dash (7) extended the term ‘microcontent’ to be used as “a more general term” and defined microcontent as:
information published in short form, with its length dictated by the constraint of a single main topic and by the physical and technical limitations of the software and devices that we use to view digital content today.
David Weinberger (8) indicated that this publication of information has been made possible by the Web’s facilitation of “small pieces loosely joined”. He observes:
The Web is binding not just pages, but us human beings in new ways. We are the true ‘small pieces’ of the Web, and we are loosely joining ourselves in ways that we’re still inventing.
Microcontent is one of the ways in which we are loosely joining ourselves.
Nova Spivack (9) sought to resolve some of the emerging definition issues about microcontent. He proposed:
It is a finite collection of metadata and data that has at least one unique identity and at least one unique address on the network, and that encapsulates no more than a small number of central ideas, where the number of central ideas encapsulated is usually 1.
He noted that microcontent is “small self-describing content” that has “a unique identity and URI, that may be published, subscribed to, and linked across the network”. He suggested “There are many reasons why we might want microcontent to be distinct and addressable even when embedded in other content”.
These precursors have given researchers the opportunity to look at the use of microcontent in microlearning (10).
Ilona Buchem and Henrike Hamelmann (11) provide a summary of the ways in which microcontent can support professional learning:
Table 1: Adaptation of Buchem and Hamelmann’s (11) comparison of macrolearning and microlearning. (The original Table is here.)
Ilona and Henrike have also identified five essential design principles for microcontent units:
- They should be designed as small formats enabling immediate perception.
- They should have a clear focus and express particular topic or an idea.
- They should be self-contained.
- They should comprise at least such elements as title, topic, author, date, tag, URL.
- They should be designed as a single Internet resource with a possibility of direct reference by a URL.
For an extended discussion of these principles see Amaud Leene (4).
Creating Your Own Microcontent
As you reflect on this resource, you might have been informed about:
- The origins of the term.
- The use of the term in learning contexts.
- A five-point framework to develop your own microcontent.
- Links to some of the literature that provides additional information.
- Michael Lindner (2006). Use Your Tool, Your Mind Will Follow.Learning in Immersive Micromedia & Microknowledge Environments. Accessed 14 May, 2016.
- Danyl Bosomworth (2014). Micro content – what is it and how to leverage it. Accessed 14 May, 2016.
- Bryan Alexander (2006). Web 2.0: A New Wave of Innovation for Teaching and Learning? Accessed 14 May, 2016.
- Arnaud Leene (2006). MicroContent is Everywhere!!! Accessed 14 May, 2016.
- George Miller (1955). The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information. Accessed 14 May, 2016.
- Jakob Nielsen (1998). Microcontent: How to Write Headlines, Page Titles and Subject Lines. Accessed 14 May, 2016.
- Anil Dash (2002). Introducing The Microcontent Client. Accessed 14 May, 2016.
- David Weinberger (2002). Preface of Small Pieces Loosely Joined. Accessed 14 May, 2016.
- Nova Spivack (2003). Defining Microcontent. Accessed 14 May, 2016.
- See, for example, Hug, 2005; Bruck, 2006; Lindner, 2006; Hug, 2007; Mark, 2007; Schmidt, 2007; Bruck, Motiwalla and Foerster, 2012; Job and Ogalo, 2012; Krämer, Hupfer and Zobel, 2015. Accessed 14 May, 2016.
- Ilona Buchem and Henrike Hamelmann (2010). Microlearning: a strategy for ongoing professional development. eLearningpapers, 21, 1-15, September. Accessed 14 May, 2016.
- Jakob Nielsen (2009). First 2 Words: A signal for the Scanning Eye. Accessed 14 May, 2016.
About this Microcontent Resource
This was drafted by Keith Lyons, on 14 May 2016. It is curated as a Google Doc at this URL address. It is estimated that the reading time for this resource is ten minutes. This resource is tagged #microcontent The resource has a CC BY 4.0 license.
It is microcontent resource reference m0001.