By - July 05, 2023
If you haven’t heard of microlearning yet, you probably will soon. While it isn’t a new way of teaching, it may feel like it to many pathologists and laboratory professionals whose education has been based upon more traditional didactic learning styles, such as lectures and PowerPoint presentations. Microlearning is essentially any brief, focused form of learning that allows students to quickly and efficiently absorb a new topic, according to eLearningIndustry.com.1 Experts explain how microlearning can benefit pathologists and laboratory professionals.
This form of learning is “shorter than traditional education, more focused on defined topics and designed in the most effective manner possible to allow users to learn what they need and get on with their day,” according to Kellie Beumer, director of Learning Innovations at the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP).
Microlearning formats can include any mixture of the following:
It’s a kind of learning that is tailormade for busy professionals or anyone who needs to learn on the job. “Healthcare professionals are so busy that just finding any spare time for their education is a blessing,” Ms. Beumer says, noting that ASCP members have been asking for short, targeted, easy-to-consume learning for some time.
Microlearning can take many multimedia forms, as well, Ms. Beumer explains. “It’s mainly focused on the length, but we’re experimenting with what works. We have a short video-based series on Castleman disease, a rare disease that not a lot of people know about. We have a question-based platform for interstitial lung disease and HER2-positive breast cancer to really help clinicians hone their diagnostic skills.” The latter two include realistic cases and scenarios with questions like, “How would you diagnose this?” or “What would you recommend?” followed by about two to three minutes of feedback.
The benefits of microlearning are numerous, Ms. Beumer says. “Convenience is the number one benefit. And the format forces us to be very concise. So, pathologists and laboratory professionals are learning the critical information they need in their own time. It fits nicely into their busy schedules.”
The material is so easy to digest that she says people could do it while riding the train to work or waiting in line.
John Kunesh, MD, a surgical pathologist and laboratory director at Torrance Memorial Medical Center in California, recently took ASCP’s microlearning course on HER2 interpretation for negative breast cancer and found the format appealing for multiple reasons. His course was delivered in short email interactions over multiple days. He’d receive a case blurb with an image and a question to answer related to the interpretation of a particular study on breast cancer cells that determine which pharmaceuticals they are eligible for.
“Each day that I got an email, it would take about five minutes in the morning. It would say, ‘Here’s what you need to know in one sentence, read the slide, and report your answer.’” He describes it as a good experience that he would definitely do again.
In cancer pathology, microlearning can be especially helpful, Ms. Beumer explains, because there’s so much happening at such a rapid pace that it’s hard to stay abreast of all the new information. “I think people are looking for quick bursts of education to help them stay at the top of their game,” she says.
Jeffree Schulte, MD, assistant professor, director of Immunohistochemistry and Histology Laboratories and Lead Pathologist, in Thoracic and Bone and Soft Tissue Pathology at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, and who taught in this format for ASCP for the first time on the topic of interstitial lung disease, says that it can “allow for complex topics to be digested in a more palatable way.”
In his view, microlearning can prevent overwhelm on a topic. “I know as a student myself, often if it’s a very difficult subject and I have to synthesize a bunch of information and I’m sitting in an hour-long lecture, it’s very hard to process that and get meaningful use out of the lecture.” Interstitial lung disease is a difficult to understand topic with a lot of overlap. “Each entity can look very similar to the next entity. So being able to see each case individually and get immediate feedback Is much more beneficial than me talking to somebody about patterns of lung fibrosis for an hour and giving no feedback at all.”
Microlearning is also an excellent way for pathologists and laboratory professionals to add skills to their repertoire without having to take time away from work. “Microlearning is truly delivered at the speed at which somebody can learn, they’re learning need-to-know bits of information that they can use on the job,” Ms. Beumer says.
Dr. Kunesh found the microlearning format “much more accessible, particularly for busy people for continuing education.” He admits that in his busy day, he might not have time to log into a 40-minute webinar, but he can do microlearning while making his morning tea.
In general, Dr. Kunesh feels that microlearning could be easily adapted to other areas of medicine very easily, with “quick little cases focused on a very specific disease, or in this case interpretation of one particular stain that is very in vogue right now, and really stratifies breast cancer.” Depending on the type of breast cancer a patient has, it changes the therapy they will receive. “So, it’s really important to get that right.”
While microlearning might not be ideal for “in-depth education that’s more of a deep dive,” Ms. Beumer says, “it can absolutely supplement more traditional education. It can help reinforce what you’ve learned and help you brush up on your skills.”