So what is it and what do you need to do differently?
I have known for some time that bite-sized learning has been moving up the learning agenda, but it wasn’t until I ran a session at Pearlcatchers’ Experiential Learning Zone at this year’s World of Learning that I realised just how much it had caught people’s attention….and just how little people knew about how to design and deliver successful bite-sized learning interventions.
This was by far the best attended session with all our chairs (and fold up reserve chairs) taken up, as well as most of the aisle taken up with people standing. As a result of this popularity, when I was asked to contribute to the WOL blog, this was the first thing that popped into my mind. So in this blog, I thought I would share what I have learned about best practice in bite-sized learning translated into 7 easy-to-remember Pearls of Wisdom.
So firstly, what do we mean by bite-sized?
Definitions of the word bite-sized include:
- Small enough to be eaten as a single mouthful
- Small enough to be easily understood or enjoyed
- You describe something as bite-sized, because it is
small enough to be considered or dealt with easily
However, I found it harder to identify one definition of bite-sized learning that I was comfortable with. Some included:
- A short course!!! (which by the way I totally disagree with)
- Chunking out your learning content into easy to find and consume nuggets, whose meaning can be grasped quickly
- Instead of delivering training over a continuous course, breaking it into bite-size chunks so learners can easily fit it into a vacant time slot in their busy daily schedules.
- Breaking and concentrating long courses into distinct, independent and high-value experiences
Although all of these had some value, none of them quite covered for me the full picture, so the definition I came up with after creating my 7 Pearls of Wisdom was:
A focussed learning intervention (generally no more than 90 minutes) with just enough content and chunked into learning bursts to achieve clear outcomes.
In this first ‘bite-sized blog’, I will take you through the first 3 of the 7 Pearls of Wisdom. I would be really interested to hear your thoughts on my definition and the accompanying pearls.
Before I start though, I want to point out that a lot of what follows is really best practice for any learning intervention. Those of you who are familiar with Pearlcatchers’ award-winning Fusion® Learning methodology will see some clear links with this model. This is quite intentional as Fusion Learning was created to apply to any form of learning intervention. However, the shortness of intervention brings up some specific/additional needs for best practice with bite-sized learning, as we will now see.
Pearl 1 – Focus on Outcomes not Coverage
For me this is always the first consideration for any learning intervention. Pearl 1 of our Fusion Learning
Methodology is ‘Start with the End in Mind’. It is even more essential with bite-sized sessions, when you don’t have the luxury of time to refocus during a session. You need to have laser-like clarity from the outset on:
- what do you want them to learn?
- what is the problem that you want this learning to solve?
- what do you want people to do differently?
In other words, it is about the end action, not what you think they might need to know. It is effectively focussing on levels 3 and 4 of the New World Kirkpatrick model – behaviours and results.
This also means that your content needs to be in context for your audience, so that they can make sense of it ‘in their world’ and easily translate it into specific actions and outcomes back in the workplace.
Pearl 2 – Mass Customisation and Modularisation
Personally, this is my biggest dilemma with designing and delivering bite-sized sessions. I don’t find sheep dip training to be effective, so as well as creating bespoke programmes, I always like to flex the content to meet the needs, knowledge and objectives of delegates on the day. However, you don’t have enough time in a bite-sized session to do any ‘on-the-day tailoring’.
This is where mass customisation comes in – it is a half-way house between sheep dip and total tailoring – what has been called the ‘Starbucks approach’. Think of your local Starbucks (or other coffee shop). They have a limited menu of options, from which people create their individual drink. For Starbucks, they are offering a standard set of ingredients to the masses. But for the customer, they are able to customise these to what they want.
In the same way, you can have a selection of bite-sized courses and people pick those that are appropriate to them – to create a bespoke learning programme – that meets their specific needs. A great way of doing this is modularisation, where you might break a wider topic into smaller chunks and delegates choose which bits are relevant to them. For example, a programme on performance management could be split into 3 bite-sized sessions on:
- Setting meaningful goals and objectives
- Handling performance feedback
- Performance evaluation and appraisal meetings
These 3 modules could be planned into 1 day that can be attended individually or altogether. In this way, each long course is split into distinct, independent and high-value experiences that focus on specific needs and avoid wasted time or energy on an area that isn’t a priority or that they are already skilled in.
Pearl 3 – Less is More
One of our deadly sins of training is ‘cramming it all in’ and this is a major challenge for me as an external consultant: clients wanting to include a long list of content to cover ‘while they are there’. However, true learning facilitators know that to learn, people need the opportunity to explore a topic – and therefore the less content you have, the more learning can take place. This is so important for any learning intervention, but absolutely critical for bite-sized.
In a 90 minute session, you can only really include 2 or 3 main points/models if you want delegates to actually take anything useful away with them. And this is also where my biggest personal challenge comes in – when I am passionate about a topic I want to tell them all about it, but I have to remember that I don’t need to tell them everything I know about the topic – just what they need to know to achieve the desired outcomes. Think about the Pareto Principle (sometimes called the 80/20 rule), where for example 80% of news is contained in 20% of a paper or 80% of sales come from 20% of customers etc. Go back to your desired outcomes and consider what is the 20% of content that will enable them to solve 80% of their real-world problems.
So these are the first three of our seven Pearls of Wisdom for Bite-Sized Learning. In my second blog, I will cover the final four pearls and give a little more information on the benefits of bite-sized learning.
In the meantime, if you would like to know more, then please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask for further information about:
- The Purple Paper I am currently finalising on Bite-Sized Learning (which will contain more information on all of the points, together with details of the theory/references behind my conclusions), which will be published in the New Year. As well as a link to the video of my WOL session on Bite-Sized Learning
- Details of our Fusion Learning methodology for transforming training into learning – and accompanying Purple Papers
- Signing up for our free online self-assessment questionnaire based around our Learning Facilitator Development Framework
- How Pearlcatchers can help you to deliver in a bite-sized world by:
- Designing and delivering bite-sized sessions and programmes for your employees
- Supporting you in creating bite-sized content for you to deliver in-house
- Providing coaching support and learning interventions as part of the Learning Facilitator Development Framework
Happy learning, Sharon Young
Sharon worked for many years in customer service, management, communication and change roles at companies such as Yellow Pages and Cable & Wireless.Sharon’s experience as both an agent and target of change gives her a unique perspective as a coach, trainer and consultant.Sharon’s management career started as Team Leader to 6 staff and developed through larger teams into middle and then senior management.Before moving into change and programme management, Sharon was a department manager to 150 staff across 4 sites with two tiers of management reporting to her.
Sharon naturally adopted a coaching / facilitative style to management and leadership.Since forming Pearlcatchers in 2002, Sharon has built on this natural ability through formal training and ongoing personal and professional development.Sharon is Lead Consultant and Coach at Pearlcatchers and for the past 12 years, she has designed and delivered a range of management, leadership and team development programmes.
Sharon was saddened by research that shows how much money is wasted on employee training that produces little business impact.To try to better understand why this happens, Sharon and her team of consultants carried out research on a range of learning methodologies, theories and models and she combined best practice from all this research into Fusion Learning® – a game-changing methodology that transforms training into learning in 7 clear and easy-to-follow steps.
Fusion Learning aims to simplify the many and varied theories about training and learning into a methodology that covers the entire learning process (from analysis through to embedding) and gives clear and easy-to-follow steps on how to put it into practice. Fusion Learning is based on research and proven theory, but is created by practitioners for practitioners.Most recently, Sharon has created the Learning Facilitator Development Framework, which consists of three skill sets necessary to create adaptive learning organisations – the strategist, practitioner and enabler.The framework includes a 360 skills review, coaching, resources and Active Learning Events.
Sharon is known for identifying the underlying development needs of both individuals and organisations and designing tailor-made solutions to fulfil these requirements.Her energetic and enthusiastic style is infectious and both motivates delegates to get involved and holds their attention throughout.
Sharon describes herself as a ‘catalyst for change’. She believes strongly that individuals and organisations have the majority of skills and knowledge they need to succeed, but sometimes need an outside influence to help them focus, open their minds and believe how good they can be.Sharon sees this as the key role of consultants and coaches – to help individuals, teams and organisations to learn and develop.Sharon believes in using support and challenge to create a safe and inspiring environment for individuals and groups.