Five bite-size commandments to design powerful learning experiences

bite-size commandments hitting the target of training
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Imagine having to sort through 300 menu items in your mind, looking for the Cajun Jambalaya pasta dish. Sounds a bit strange? Perhaps, but this is actually what waiters at The Cheesecake Factory, a famous US restaurant chain, do on a daily basis. Their menu is 5,940 words, so imagine the amount of brain energy and memory a waiter needs to get it all right.

Fortunately, the company has found a way around this problem. They transformed training into a game: each waiter studies the dishes (how they look, what the ingredients are) and then is tested in several matching sessions. On an iPad, the waiter sees four pictures of pasta and has to identify which one is the Cajun Jambalaya. Based on their speed and accuracy, they get badges to show off their achievements.

This training technique has been incredibly valuable for The Cheesecake Factory. After all, you can’t have waiters delivering the wrong dishes to the wrong tables. What has made this approach so successful is a simple tweak. Waiters don’t go through the menu all at once, but in small chunks. First they learn some of the chicken dishes (there are 85). Then the rest of them. Then the pasta. Then the desserts. And in between these chunks, they do the matching sessions to test their learning.

This is the power of bite-size in action.

As an L&D professional, you face numerous challenges. Among them, one stands out: getting employees to make time for learning. This is where bite-size proves to be highly valuable: it aims to reduce the friction of learning by organizing information in small, digestible chunks. These can be tailored to the specific needs of the learners and delivered to them anytime, anywhere.

But not all bite-size learning is created equal. So how can you design a learning experience that caters to your time-starved audience, while also being engaging and effective?

Take a look at the five bite-size commandments below. As you go through them, think about the learning programs you already have in place at your company. How do they incorporate these principles?

1. Stick to one idea

This is called granularity. Your content nugget should be built around one big idea or concept. Take a Conflict Management module, for example. When you Google this topic, you come across countless of articles: “Six strategies to resolve conflicts”, “Conflict management techniques”, “The five steps to conflict resolution”, etc.

Sort through all these frameworks and principles to pinpoint the one that is most relevant to your target audience. Say you choose empathy. Next, you can design your content around this idea, highlighting how empathy can assist in conflict resolution.

Keep modules short and actionable by communicating one idea, related to one learning objective, aiming to drive one behavioral change. Less is more!

2. Honor the content (and keep it fluff-free)

Think back to the last professional course you attended. Did it provide actionable advice that you could implement the next day? Or was it stuffed with frameworks and theories that only left you more confused? This type of background noise has one clear consequence: it clutters the content and makes it hard for learners to take away the essential.

Your aim is to design transformative learning journeys, so keep the needs of your audience in mind when creating content. Having quick access to relevant and actionable advice is crucial, so highlight the How-Tos from the start. Your whole nugget should be centered around practical information. Discard everything else: avid learners find no utility in background noise.

As Bill Gates so eloquently put it in a 1966 essay, “Content is king”. Make this principle the core element of your learning nuggets and always provide your audience with a practical and useful solution to their problem.

3. Engage your audience

The bite-size revolution” report points out that a stunning 90% of employees have no idea why the company makes them learn certain things and whether it will add value to their work life. If you want to engage your learners, make it crystal clear how this learning experience is valuable and relevant to them, as well as to the overall direction of the company.

There are a few simple ways to ensure your audience is on the edge of their seats while consuming your content:

  1.  Tell stories of both success and failure – show how other people have engaged with the content and how they applied it in their work. For example, in a nugget aimed at creating a vision statement, don’t just tell learners how to do it. Provide examples of statements from famous companies and successful CEOs to get them inspired.
  2.  Create real-life scenarios to spark curiosity – use experiential learning techniques such as role plays and case studies to challenge learners and help them apply what they learn right away. For example, for a feedback nugget, encourage your learners to engage in one-on-one discussions and practice giving feedback to each other from different perspectives.
  3.  Give examples of best practices and actionable advice – get really specific about the suggestions and prompts you give. For example, if you create a nugget on delivering productive meetings, don’t simply urge your learners to engage their colleagues. Provide examples of opening questions and ice-breaker activities that they can implement in their next meeting.
  4.  Show how the information relates to the work context and roles – draw a clear connection between the learning and the day-to-day activities your learners need to perform. For example, outline how a nugget on effective communication will help them navigate difficult conversations with their colleagues, run more productive meetings and handle conflict with greater ease.

Using these techniques, you set the bar high in terms of both learner engagement and content quality. In doing so, you come one step closer to providing your audience with insightful learning experiences.

4. Space out your learning

Can you remember those long nights in college when you would sit at your desk for hours on end, studying for tomorrow’s exam or adding the final touches to a project? How did those make you feel?

Cramming in a lot of information isn’t more effective now than it was back then. Your learners will not be able to absorb a vast amount of ideas in one sitting, so space out your nuggets. This is why the spacing effect is a valuable insight – it has been proven that spreading your chunks over a larger period of time helps you recall them more easily.

Let’s say you are creating a course on Customer Service essentials, and you have 4 learning nuggets. You can spread them out over 8 weeks. In between, you can provide quizzes or scenarios that test knowledge acquisition. In week III, you test the ideas learned in weeks I and II. In week V, you test the ones learned in weeks I to IV, and so on. By the end of the course, your learners will have a solid base of knowledge to rely on in their work, because you have given them sufficient time to go through the material.

5. Keep it personalized

Learners today don’t respond to push methods anymore. They are interested in curating their own learning experience, based on their current skill gap. This knowledge can be integrated in your learning nuggets, to ensure an attractive experience.

Take the onboarding process of an e-learning company. New Instructional Designers used to have to attend 15 courses designed by their seniors. There was little room left for flexible customization, and all courses were mandatory. Now, new hires are given the autonomy and flexibility to direct their own learning paths: they assess their knowledge prior to enrolling in a module, receive personalized recommendations and feedback and get redirected to topics based on their performance.

Most importantly, they are empowered to fully curate their learning experience, while also being provided with support where needed by their manager or Talent Manager.

 

Chris Anderson, Ted Curator

Your job, as an L&D professional, is to guide your learners on their journey to becoming better every day. By using these bite-size commandments, you can present big ideas in powerful format, helping your audience harness their transformative potential.

In the words of Chris Anderson, TED Curator,If communicated properly, [ideas] are capable of changing, forever, how someone thinks about the world and shaping their actions both now and well into the future.” You are the person who holds this power. Make the most of it!

Take the hassle out of learning with Moonstar’s digital learning content. Whether you’re looking to develop your employees’ personal effectiveness, customer relationships or managerial skills, Moonstar has created micro-learning journeys with world-class experts and thought-leaders. Reduce the friction and deliver truly impactful learning experiences!

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