Using Micro Learning to Study and Teach Art

Mentoring and Social Learning on Facebook for Artists

Micro Learning and Social Learning Units on Facebook
Micro-Learning and Social Learning units on Facebook

Each week I write a brand new article for members of our three wonderful art groups on Facebook, The Artists Exchange, The Artist Hangout, and the Artists Directory. This week we take a look at arts education and mentoring using Facebook groups and social learning units.  I know that time can be tight for professional artists and many people who would love to study the arts just don’t always have the luxury of time or often the finances to support this kind of formal study. This is where social learning and social media platforms can play a vital role in our own development as visual artists.

Arts education isn’t by any means an inexpensive thing to undertake unless you are taking a less formal route, and even then the costs of learning don’t always completely go away. Visit any of the finest academic institutions and the course fees can be eye-wateringly expensive and even short top-up courses which build on past education can cost a pretty penny too.

Yet continuing to learn about the arts is something that is vital if you want to have a solid grounding and you want to continue towards a mastery of your art. There is always something new to learn as an artist, whether it is new techniques, learning about art history, or marketing you work, the problem for most working artists though is that they can’t always find enough time to commit to a full on learning program.

Informal Learning…

There was a time not too long ago when the default for learning about pretty much any subject meant that we had little choice other than to sit in a classroom but more and more over the past decade and with the emergence and evolution of mobile technology we can learn whenever and wherever we want.

Today we don’t always need to sign up for a lengthy and expensive course to learn something. If I need to find out how to use the latest features in Photoshop or I need to get my head around mixing pours, I can head over to YouTube and learn the elements of the application that I need to know without necessarily having to understand everything that’s less relevant or less relevant at this particular moment in time.

In one sense you might well argue that this approach to learning can be seen as dumbing education down and for example knowing how to use layer masks isn’t going to make my art that much better if I don’t have a fuller understanding of how masks work in Photoshop more generally. But there is an equal argument that says that it shouldn’t matter how we learn, just so long as we do.

There is also a plethora of research that has found that for many people and especially those who simply don’t have the time to commit to more formal and longer learning experiences, that micro-learning is a much more effective way of understanding a subject and especially when the learning is repeated in short bursts.

What exactly is micro-learning?

Micro learning is an approach that I have been a fan of for a long time, in part because I just don’t have the luxury of having that much spare time, and in part because I know that my own learning style is more suited to learning in this way.

If I need to learn about a subject I no longer have to spend most of my evenings sat in a classroom. I can learn at my own pace and at a point in time when I know that I can fit some learning into my usually packed schedule. 

Today there are so many opportunities for learning and the internet has made the world much smaller and so much more accessible. We can now pick up learning from around the world and this is something that is eminently useful when you work in a business that can have a global reach. 

When I studied art many years ago I had very little choice in where I attended or what I learned and the learning was localised.

The program was structured and whilst it gave me a solid grounding of the principles and theory, when I had finished the course I realised that there was so much still to learn. There were elements of the course program that have been extremely useful ever since but there were also parts of the program that I have to say have served me little use at all. If I could have expanded my knowledge in the areas that were more useful and not bothered with some of the elements that were less relevant it would have made the course so much more valuable. Knowledge gaps have to be filled but we do now have much more choice in how we fill them.

There is still a place for formal learning in classroom environments and there is also a place for informal learning and micro-learning and mentoring too. Today I run a business and also have a nine to five job, so finding the time to study formally over and above running a business and working a regular job is always a challenge.  That’s where this more informal self-paced learning approach really helps.

Micro-learning is a method of delivering 3-5 minute bursts of teaching which is more focussed and has very specific learning outcomes. This puts the learner in control of what and when and how they learn and it is much more accommodating if you lead a busy life. 

It also helps to mitigate cognitive overload which in turn helps us to retain more information and especially when repetition is involved. We might for example watch a five minute tutorial on YouTube and then we might continue to watch the same tutorial over and over while we put into practice what is on screen or from wherever we are taking the learning from.

With the advent of social media, the way we consume any sort of content has changed. Our attention spans are short and often it is impossible to go for long stretches of time without being interrupted by a ping or a ding as emails, messages and notifications compete for our attention. The way we consume content has changed too, we now continuously scroll social media newsfeeds until something catches our eye. Micro-learning is a similar concept.

To engage learners I am a big believer in teachers penetrating the online and technological worlds as a way of connecting and engaging with learners. Walk through any school or college hallway and there’s a good chance that most of the students will be engrossed in whatever they are doing on their phones. Social media and news streams have become ingrained in how everyone communicates and consumes information so it makes sense that we should also be using the same methods to build up engagement in learning.

Some schools certainly here in the UK have banned the use of pupils using phones, but there is a reality that mobile phone use isn’t going to go away and not being able to access the technology drives its use underground. What we should be doing is learning as educators how to embrace that technology and use it to connect learners with learning, there really is little point in not making it a part of the education process.

We might though carry out some micro-learning and find that we need to better understand certain aspects of whatever the subject is. Micro-learning is quick and easy when you need to know or learn something in a given space of time, and it lends itself to opening up a world of macro-learning where the most relevant topics can be explored in greater depth. Combined micro and macro learning can start to really fill in those gaps in knowledge that we all have.

willingness to learn is a choice
Willingness to learn is a choice...

Recognising Informal Learning…

Over the past few years I have managed to pick up recognition for the learning I have completed through recognition systems such as Open Badges. It’s an interesting concept that is starting to finally gain some traction within education and Open Badges can complement and recognise some of the micro-learning that we do.

Instead of gaining a paper certificate to recognise what a learner has learnt, the student will earn a digital credential which is then held in an online digital badge back-pack with each badge having meta-data attached to it which explains what the learning was, and what standards were met to gain the award. Think of this as the digital equivalent of Boy Scout and Girl Guide badges.

Open Badges are a group of specifications and technical standards that essentially package the information about the, what and the why and how, the award was validated. Some of my badges have been earned as a result of just attending certain professional events that count towards that all-important CPD (Continuous Professional Development) which many employers need to have sight of, but others have been awarded for learning about specific things. The last one I earned was as a result of some learning I completed on configuring Microsoft Server 2019, before that I earned one for attending an Adobe event.

In brief, Open Badges are the global standard for verifiable digital credentials. Badges empower people to take their learning achievements with them, wherever they go, bridging traditional data silos to build a rich picture of their lifelong learning journey.

Academic institutions and employers can gain insight into your current learning rather than relying on seeing your certificate from the course you attended twenty-years ago. It means that you can validate your learning as being up to date (some badges even have expiry dates), and badges also demonstrate that the education you currently hold is not just historical learning that you have undertaken in the dim and distant past, which is usually education you will have forgotten twenty-years later but still appears on your resume.
You can find out more about Open Badges here,  which will give you a much better insight into what they are, and you can also see the kinds of organisations where Open Badges are seen as just as being  just as important as some of the more formal validated learning you might have completed.

Are Open Badges and Micro Learning Useful in Art?

Many Open and digital Badges are currently being awarded by organisations who deliver arts programs and earning them through study is yet another way of demonstrating that you are continuing with your own professional development as an artist. It’s also a way of earning recognition of the learning that you have completed in the arts without necessarily having to sign up to a more formal arts education. In terms of currency in the labour market there is varied opinion around whether a twenty-year old Master’s degree is still as relevant today or whether a digital credential is a much more current representation of where you are at.

Last year, Jonathan Lehrich the Associate Dean of Executive Education in the Questrom School of Business, Boston University spoke of the Benefits of Micro-credentialing and said that;

The value of a degree or credential lies as much in how you talk about it, as it does in anything intrinsic. It depends on how the holder presents the achievement on their resume, their LinkedIn profile, and in professional contexts... and went on to say that: there is variance in how people value the currency of executive education…
The article which appeared on Evolllution.com and which you can read here is a fascinating insight into the argument of digital credentials having more meaning, and that they are more reflective of what a person knows than what a person knew back when they took a formal qualification. The article in two-parts is definitely worth a read.

Many online programs are also offering digital and Open Badges as a way of formally recognising what you have learned in areas such as digital marketing and design, and these kinds of subjects will boost your resume at the same time. However you learn and however you choose to utilise any badges you do earn, there is little doubt that this is something that will bolster any artist’s academic credentials and make them stand out. That’s really important in today’s gig-economy and especially when you work as a freelance creative.

Social learning units on Facebook
Social Learning on Facebook

Facebook Social Learning in Groups…

Facebook, love it or loathe it, there is no denying that the platform can offer much more than funny cat memes and a bazillion buy and sell groups where buyers will haggle you down so much that in the end you pay them to take your items away.

Most people will already know about Facebook groups and many of my regular readers are already members of my three groups, The Artists Exchange, The Artists Directory and The Artist Hangout. One of the things that you might have noticed over the past couple of weeks are the changes I have been making under the hood within these groups.

The Artists Directory has recently moved from being described on Facebook as a custom group to a social learning group and I have opened up the ability for members to become a mentor or a mentee in each of the three groups giving the ability to members to be able to offer voluntary support and help to other members who request it.

Last year Facebook started to roll out the mentorship feature to groups which allowed members to connect with each other and receive one to one support through a guided program.
Now the feature is rolling out more widely and if you have already created a group you can create a mentorship program by turning the feature on in the settings of the group page. Mentorship has been built with privacy and safety in mind and all communications between the mentor and the mentee can only be seen by those individuals and anyone participating has to be eighteen years or older.

Mentorship should be seen as a welcome addition to groups where it has a fit, and with the potential for group founders to monetise groups in some situations, group creators might want to work on making their groups relevant enough in the eyes of Facebook to be able to do this. Facebook can be another option to explore when looking at ways to move away from the standard nine-to-five as a support for their art practice. Monetised subscription groups can make that possible. 

Something else that makes this particularly well suited to artists is that Facebook have also introduced social learning into groups more widely than they originally did. A social learning group is similar to a normal group except that admins are able to organise posts into units and change the order in which posts appear for members.

Group members can then click on I’m done to let the admin know that they are finished with the unit and admins can view group insights to see details on the unit and post completion.
Where social learning units are available in Facebook groups members are also able to change whether or not they land on the discussion tab when they visit the group page or if they land on the social units tab.

Adding Learning Units to Groups…

Once you add a group on Facebook and set the type of group that supports social learning, you will then be able to add in learning units so that members can complete them. It’s a simple process where you just need to click on add unit, choose a title and description, and decide on whether or not the content is optional for your learners to complete or if it will be mandatory.

Once this is done you will be able to add content to your unit either by posting directly to a group unit or by adding an existing post to a group unit. When you go through the creation of a learning unit you will be able to add things like events (perhaps a Facebook Live session) or you can add a file (perhaps a task) or simply write a post which might explain the steps that learners need to take to complete the unit.

There are other things which make the user experience more conducive to learning such as being able to reorder posts so that they make chronological sense. There are plenty of tutorials on creating Facebook learning units online and this is something that I will be covering in a future article, but for now you might want to take a look at this article I stumbled across online right here

I promised last year that as soon as we started to see some traction with learning units and mentorship features from Facebook that I would start making some social learning units available within our groups. I will be starting off making those units available through The Artists Directory, at least initially and we will be covering subjects such as marketing art on Facebook and other social media platforms but I hope that we will also be able to create units which are geared more towards the practice of art, all we need are people to volunteer to become mentors.

Becoming an online mentor or tutor…

One of the best educational experiences I have ever had was when I undertook some learning to qualify as a teacher of further and higher education. I had always given keynotes and lectures throughout my varied career and when I became more and more involved with my work in academia, I decided to finally take the plunge and become qualified in the practice of delivering education and this is where I learned some valuable skills that have helped me whenever I have delivered learning or have been a mentor.

How much time will mentoring take?

Becoming a mentor in a Facebook group takes a certain kind of person who is willing to spend at least an hour each week helping someone else. Being a mentor can be such a rewarding experience though that for most people, it becomes something that they start to really enjoy and often put more time into whenever they can.

Maintaining Engagement…

Engagement as we all know from our own marketing efforts on social media, is something of a Holy Grail. There are a lot of people who lurk on every one of the social media platforms and you might never hear from them or they might have joined the group but have since moved on and haven’t left. But when people do engage constructively with each other the social part of social media makes it feel more like a community, and when you have a community with engaged people, it makes the process of marketing you and your work much easier.

With mentoring we often see that too. It can take a while for mentors to come forward in any group just as it does in the world outside of social media but the momentum often starts once you have a few mentors who pave the way for others to follow.

Engaging with people can be difficult online. We can’t easily pick up on the social cues that we would get if we were meeting people face to face, but part of a mentor and online educator’s role is to become almost like the host of a TV show at least initially. You have to keep the format fresh.
Invite guest experts to the group or set up Q&A sessions, or maybe have certain times in the week when you make yourself available to broadcast a Facebook Live session. These kinds of events can be set up in groups with social learning using the add event options so that you can give people enough notice to show up.

The role of the online educator…

The role of an online educator or mentor is often about provoking intelligent and constructive responses so when you set group tasks, try and make sure that they are also thought provoking. You ideally want lots of comments and conversation that keeps articles alive and interesting for members, and you also need to set calls to action. Follow the flow of the conversations and allow people to discuss posts individually.

When it comes to engagement, not everyone will be engaged all of the time or even some of the time. Accept it, people learn and take value out of things in their own way and if their way is to not actively and publicly participate, it doesn’t mean that they are not getting value out of your group or your learning units.

Encourage and motivate those who do participate in your groups and social learning units and make sure you give both thanks and praise for their sharing of ideas and thoughts. Groups of people whether online or offline follow cues by whoever they see as leading, so if you are disengaged from the group your members will be too.

Remember that social learning doesn’t have to be formal. No one should be getting a detention or sat on the naughty step just because they haven’t completed a unit on time. Be patient and be prepared to wait several days for replies and comments because not only are people generally busy with other things, Facebook’s own algorithm is notoriously slow at surfacing content so members might not be ignoring it, but if they haven’t visited the group page and rely on seeing items only in their news feed, they might not have seen it at all.

How this supports you as an artist…

There might be things that you are great at that you could easily share with others. You might be able to form perfect cells in acrylic pours or you might have expertise in running a business. If you have a skill in anything there will be people who would love to learn it. 

You might want to use the mentorship scheme to become a mentee as well as a mentor if there are skills that you want to brush up on or simply don’t as yet have at all. This type of peer learning can be a really powerful way to learn anything and particularly if you don’t have the time to commit to more formal learning.

As a mentor you also have the ability to list the types of skills that you have so you don’t have to be good at everything. As artists we all have certain skills, some of us are stronger in some areas than others and as a mentee there will be skills that you need to develop to take you art career further.

Becoming a mentor can enrich your life by helping others but it can also develop your own growth too. Mentoring helps you to develop leadership skills which can in turn make you a better manager, or employee. It can also help you to improve your communication skills and on social media, communication is the key.

There are lots of tools that can help you and you don’t even have to speak the same language anymore. There are online translators that can do a remarkable job of translation, and this also gives you exposure to other cultures which not only develop your communication skills, exposure to other cultures can be something that gives you a wider view of the art world.

Above all though, being a mentor can also give you great satisfaction. It can be personally fulfilling knowing that you have helped someone even in a small way and seeing your mentee succeed will give you a boost too. Artists have always been instrumental in bringing communities together, but today we also have virtual communities.

Becoming a mentor and getting involved in art communities on social media also helps you to get your name out there. That’s one of the most important things that you have to do as an artist and as you become more and more well-known and trusted within the communities you are involved with, that’s when you also start to see more and more of your people coming forward to find you and to buy your art.

Designing Micro Learning Experiences…

The more I have been thinking about micro learning over the past few months when writing this article, the more I have begun to think the way we have been doing Facebook video as a tool for marketing our own artworks might be better served if we added even if only occasionally, a micro-learning element into the mix. People share more when they find a value in something and if a video that markets our art can be useful at the same time, it might be another way we can grow that all important organic reach and engagement.

Aside from the possibilities in marketing, producing micro-learning elements particularly for the new learning unit feature in Facebook groups is something that you might also want to consider. I know of many artists who have made a successful living from running short learning courses alongside their art practice and as I have said before, if you have a skill that someone else also wants and needs, that skill is worth even more.

Today we will keep things simple and look at designing learning for use in Facebook but if you do want to progress to more education/academic learning platforms you might want to consider platforms such as Moodle which you can find details of right here.  Moodle is an Open Source learning platform which I have been using for many years to deliver sessions and content on, and there is a huge community who can help you with setting up Moodle’s to deliver your own learning.

It’s a far more polished approach to offering training and gives you much more flexibility than Facebook, so if you are planning on earning income from learning others how to create the perfect pour or to learn other people about social media or marketing, I would definitely say that having a well populated resource such as a Moodle learning management system is worth considering. 

Be warned though that it’s not just something that can be installed on a PC, it requires a link to a database such as SQL for a start, but it is without doubt one of the best. There are other platforms such as Canvas, (beautiful interface) but most of the other platforms also come with a price tag.

On Facebook the units will need to be fairly simple. However, if you are a member of the Artists Directory, then you are welcome to post learning platform and delivery related questions into that group and either me or a member of the community will try our best to find you an answer.

facebook mentoring in groups
Facebook Group Mentoring Image courtesy and copyright of Facebook

Keep it short…

On Facebook you will be competing with grumpy cats and memes and attention spans are often limited to a few seconds before the viewer decides to scroll past. But if you do engage a community and they do want to learn something, the learning units can still be used to effectively deliver some quite creative training and education.

Keep everything as concise as you can. Any lessons should be short (3-5 minutes) if they are to be classed as micro-learning. You can produce longer and more complex learning units, but you might want to use longer learning for deep diving into specifics of a subject area.

Utilise Video…

Video is consistently one of the best ways of engaging anyone but even more so when it comes to learning. The keep everything short rules still apply to video. Demonstrating the art of the acrylic pour and how you create a mix might be better than showing the entire process from start to finish.

Be you…

I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have sat through corporate videos and fallen asleep. You need to keep informal learning informal so use a light hearted tone and think of the delivery just as you would have a conversation. If you want learners to keep coming back for more (and that’s important when it comes to monetising content), you will definitely want whatever you produce to be engaging.

Create regular content…

Micro-learning is a great way to engage people but you do have to commit to sustaining the engagement. Ideally you need to create short educational assets that your cohort of learners can dip in and out of, but always make sure that there is always something else.

Get Involved…

Anyone can become a mentor in any of our three groups and anyone can make a request for a mentor to help them. So if this article today has inspired you to want to come forward either as a mentor or mentee, you can sign up directly in each of the groups. I will in turn try to figure out ways of rewarding mentors perhaps by periodically turning their marketing posts into announcements and sharing their work.

Social Learning in the Artists Directory…

I am hoping that the social learning units I am slowly beginning to put together will be useful in the Artists Directory. They will cover a range of subjects including marketing and will mainly be discussion led. 

The units I have been working on so far have included various discussion points and have been designed to get you thinking about things like marketing. In time some of these units will expand out to include some assignment based work but for the most part will be units that you can do in under five or six minutes. 

If we can get enough mentors involved in the process too, it will make a huge difference in being able to supply new learning units covering a multitude of subjects. Some mentors might even wish to become moderators within the group so that they are also able to create and upload their own units. Together we collectively have skills that every one of us might need.

What subjects do you want to see?

It would be great to get an idea about how you like to learn too. Do you prefer a hands-on approach to learning or do you prefer something more visual or theoretical? We all have very different learning styles. None of the units will be mandatory and I am hoping that there’s enough interest for others to join in with the creation of units and that this project becomes more and more about knowledge sharing.

So, if you have any ideas for social learning units I would love to hear about them and if you want to become involved and enroll into the mentor program or would like to request mentoring from others, leave a post in the Artists Directory which will be the first of the three groups to receive these new features. You can also leave a comment below or as ever, you can find me on Facebook right here
  
The overall ethos of The Artists Directory is to support the business of the artist rather than individual artworks, and about learning more about the business of art. I am a big believer in the power of artists coming together so this will hopefully become an idea opportunity to really make a difference and to support fellow artists and creatives.

About Mark…

I am an artist and blogger and live in Staffordshire, England. You can purchase my art through my Fine Art America store or my Pixels site here: https://10-mark-taylor.pixels.com  
Any art sold through Fine Art America and Pixels contributes towards to the ongoing costs of running and developing this website. You can also view my portfolio website at https://beechhousemedia.com

You can also follow me on Facebook at: https://facebook.com/beechhousemedia where you will also find regular free reference photos of interesting subjects and places I visit. You can also follow me on Twitter @beechhouseart and on Pinterest here

If you would like to support the upkeep of this site or maybe just buy me a coffee, you can do so right here

Comments

  1. I always learn something new when I read your blog. I firmly believe in micro learning. I'm about to explore Open Badges as well. Thanks for a well written & informative article Mark.

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    1. Many thanks Colleen! Hope you enjoy gaining some digital credentials and look forward to hearing about them! Hope you are keeping well x

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