Innovating in Medical Education through Microlearning

Concurrent Session 10

Brief Abstract

The Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine is applying microlearning techniques in online courses.  Microlearning was introduced through digital assets, which are instructional materials created to meet a specific objective.  Creating and implementing digital assets into our courses have improved the faculty interest and student experience.


Joe Evanick is the Director of Instructional Design and Distance Learning at the Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine (GCSoM). Before GCSoM, Joe has held instructional design and educational technology roles at multiple institutions, including Penn State University, Rutgers University, and the University of the Sciences. Joe has a Bachelor of Science degree in Communications Media and a Master of Arts degree in Adult Education and Communications Technology, both from Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP). He also has earned a professional certificate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Online Education, Instruction and Instructional Design. Joe is currently pursuing a Doctor of Education degree in Leadership and Innovation from New York University.

Extended Abstract

The School of Graduate Studies at the Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine is applying microlearning techniques in online courses through digital assets.  This project came together as part of our MBS Digitization initiative.  The main goal of our MBS Digitization initiative is to offer our Master of Biomedical Science degree online.  To accomplish that, we are changing the way we teach through course design and educational technology.

The driving force behind this initiative is the desire to innovate. We reflected on our own professional experiences as well as researched what other colleges, universities, and medical schools were doing.  We also researched the latest trends in online education, throughout higher education and beyond.  In addition, we looked at the capabilities of our team and what resources we have available to us.  The idea of digital assets, also known as learning objects, came about from an article, Learning Objects in Medical Education.  A learning object is a grouping of instructional materials structured to meet a specified educational objective (Ruiz, J. G., Mintzer, M. J., & Issenberg, S. B. , 2006).

Microlearning is an innovative e-learning method characterized by learning in small steps, using particularly mobile devices such as smartphones (Bruck, Motiwalla, & Foerster, 2012).  This learning method has become quite popular in the learning and development world, but some instructors in higher education struggle with the idea of breaking up or rethinking their lectures. 

The use of mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets, is a growing trend in education over the past few years and plays a big part in microlearning.  Since online courses are delivered through a learning management system, it’s easy to design the courses as mobile-friendly.  Thankfully, our learning management system, Canvas, provides a mobile app which allows us to create mobile-friendly courses. This gives students the flexibility to access their course content any time no matter where they are with the same experience as using a laptop or desktop computer. 

The Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine’s digital assets are made up of short videos, five to ten minutes long, accompanied by an active learning activity.  Through these digital assets, students can learn the content in digestible chunks and then immediately receive reinforcement through activities.  The digital assets were created for Biochemistry, Cell Biology, Human Genetics, and Bioethics. 

Faculty strategically chose the topics for their digital assets so they can be used across disciplines and programs.  Video titles are A Case of Misfolding, A Case of Night Blindness, A Case of Short Femurs, Eukaryotic DNA Replication: Elongation Phase 1, Eukaryotic DNA Replication: Elongation Phase 2, Antagonistic Pleiotropy, Locus Heterogeneity, Monoallelic Gene Expression, Pleiotropy, Twinning, Proteins Synthesis/Translation, Protein Structure, Protein Folding, Conflicts of Interest in Medicine, and Prokaryotic Gene Expression: The Operons.

The faculty members’ perspective on the MBS Digitization and the idea of digital assets was not initially favorable.  The School of Graduate Studies concluded it was necessary to innovate to grow as an institution and that was initially met with some resistance.  The process required patience, leadership, and a commitment to our mission.  The faculty perspective quickly shifted once they were able to view the final and edited video portions of their digital assets.  Faculty members are now fully supportive of the idea and looking forward to the School of Graduate Studies’ development.


Bruck, P. A., Motiwalla, L., & Forester, F. (2012). Mobile Learning with Micro-content: A Framework and Evaluation. Association for Information Systems, 527-543. Retrieved August 20, 2018, from

Ruiz, J. G., Mintzer, M. J., & Issenberg, S. B. (2006). Learning objects in medical education. Medical Teacher, 28(7), 599-605. doi:10.1080/01421590601039893