What happens when your idea is too big for one course?
We’ve written a lot about micro learning and related ideas, but we haven’t talked much about the opposite: macro learning, and the big-picture thinking it entails. While micro learning can help educators find traction with their course and build momentum, macro learning provides direction and an overarching unity to their course material.
If you’ve never thought of your course content from this broader perspective before, doing so can be an exciting and eye-opening exercise. Here are just a few reasons why you should think about your course material from a macro perspective, and how it can help you build a stronger course.
1. Macro learning can encompass a learning theory.
As a language nerd, I’ve been curious to watch ways in which learning theories about languages have changed in the past few years. In particular, there has been a greater emphasis around concepts such as learning without translation, spaced repetition systems to improve memory retention, and regular conversations with online tutors to help learners gain practical exposure instead of relying solely on theoretical book knowledge.
Combined, these techniques form a new learning theory around language learning. This is macro learning theory is one educators put to practice when they create language learning apps like DuoLingo or FluentForever. By creating courses that are based in a new theory, they offer an experience fundamentally different from much of their competition.
2. Macro learning can be about a discipline of study, rather than a course.
Another way of thinking about macro learning is to tie it to a larger discipline, rather than a single subject. For instance, you may want to teach a course on digital marketing. Maybe you start off with lessons on SEO, content writing, and PPC advertising. But how would you envision these courses fitting in with a larger program of study? Do you see them as part of a series of courses on communications which might eventually include a series on public speaking and media relations? Or do you envision them fitting in with a series of courses on launching a small business that might also include accounting and hiring new employees?
If you think about your courses from that macro perspective, it’s clear that “digital marketing for the communications expert” is very different from “digital marketing for the small business owner.” And while you could opt for the more generic, encompassing course on just “digital marketing,” choosing a niche will actually help you target learners more effectively, which will help you build a network of like-minded learners who are more likely to stick around for another course.
3. Macro learning can help learners change their way of life.
Have you ever watched a new learning method transform into a movement? This usually happens when someone discovers a new, effective way to teach something. Sometimes, this way of teaching and learning take off in a big way, and pretty soon learners are sharing stories about how this new method changed their life.
I have one example that springs to mind, although it’s not one usually associated with online education: CrossFit. I know a few CrossFit enthusiasts, and they are more than eager to share stories about how CrossFit completely changed their approach to exercise. This is because it wasn’t presented as merely a new exercise routine, but as a complete fitness ethos.
In the years since CrossFit became popular, people have begun opening gyms around the country dedicated to that style of training. And yes, you can even find plenty of online instructional content where CrossFit coaches share their own content.
4. Macro learning can create a community around itself.
One of the main disadvantages of micro learning is that courses can be very fleeting. They’re designed to be small and consumable, which is why they’re also often very popular. But without enough staying power, they can also lead to a lot of learner churn.
Macro learning gives learners something to hold on to ask they hop from micro course to micro course. And the best way to encourage learners to connect with macro learning this way is through community. By building a community around the learning theory, or the course discipline, or a new lifestyle, educators can help learners commit more strongly to their learning goals.
5. Macro learning can be supported by micro learning.
As you may have noticed, macro and micro aren’t opposing forces, but complementary ones. Just as macro learning can help you create a learning ecosystem for your course, micro learning can turn those big ideas into bite-sized, consumable courses.
In this way, macro and micro learning support each other. It’s very easy for learners to aimlessly take a handful of micro courses without knowing how they will ultimately link together into something bigger, but macro learning can ensure that they do. And micro learning can make sure that learners can get through course material one step at a time, without being overwhelmed by the process.
Thinking about the big picture can help give structure to your content and inspire you with more ideas.
Perhaps one of the reasons we hear less about macro learning is because it’s harder to break down into actionable steps. For instructors still planning ways to launch their first course, taking that eagle-eye view of a course can seem more daunting than encouraging.
However, thinking broadly about course content can also provide inspiration for more topics. And tying your course into a larger theme will ultimately encourage your learners to stick with you for the long-haul, rather than taking one course and moving on.
So the next time you sit down to have a planning session for upcoming courses, take some time to ask yourself how you see everything tying together. It will almost certainly help you discover places where your course could stand to be filled out, and it may even help you find new ways to communicate your vision to your learners.