#ASTD2014 Presentation: Brief is Beautiful: Bite-size Content and the New E-learning

#ASTD2014 Presentation: Brief is Beautiful: Bite-size Content and the New E-learning

Stephen Meyer from the Rapid Learning Institute believes that typical elearning courses are much too long. This is the topic of the Brief is Beautiful: Bite-size Content and the New E-learning presentation. 

Thin Slicing

Meyer pointed out that there is a changing demographic in the workforce who will not sit for a 90 – 60 – 30 minute presentation. Also, these long presentations are not conducive for just-in-time mobile learning.

Meyer introduced the idea of “thin slicing” – making a video or instructional content small enough to address a single topic. The material should be bite size to facilitate just-in-time learning. He pointed out a number of elearning programs that are using thin slicing to address training needs:

Thin slicingMeyer noted that thin slicing is intentionally incomplete. It focuses on a single concept. Thin slicing is similar to a Google search on a specific topic. It is 1 concept to change 1 behavior to achieve 1 outcome.

History of elearning

Self-paced elearning
Self-paced elearning

Meyer went on to address the history of elearning. He spoke about computer based training, training delivered on CDROM, etc. While the potential was there to deliver important training, the training was too long. Employees were only watching a fraction of the modules provided. Rapid Learning Institute watched hundreds of elearning modules to understand why they were not being watched. They found the content to be excellent. Yet, they came to realization that the training was too long.

Purpose of elearning

Training is about changing behavior; it is also the act of persuasion. Key questions for information design:

  • What is the medium?
  • Who is my audience?

Post Guttenberg Age

Meyer noted that in the Guttenberg Age, we would conduct massive research and deliver a linear object. However, in a post Guttenberg Age, the brain wants information in short overlapping bursts. He used the example of the online New York Times to illustrate his point. When someone reads the online NYT, they are scanning the page rapidly to find information that is stimulating. The scan is not linear but rather jumping from place to place.

Mobile first

TrendsWhen designing elearning, we should be designing for mobile first. We should be focused on rapid learning. Learning that can be achieved in only a couple of minutes. We should be developing bite-size learning of no more than 8 minutes. Meyer noted that clergy are being asked to keep sermons to 8 minutes. I thought that was interesting.

We should be thin slicing content. I thought thin slicing was similar to chunking, but Meyer indicated this was not the case. I am still trying to sort out this difference.

The bottom line is to not develop 90-minute, 60-minute, or even 30-minute training videos.

Impact of thin slicing on the organization

Meyer began this section of his presentation by pointing out that shorter e-learning modules increase manager involvement. It makes it possible for a manager to coach rather than train. He illustrated this with the Fogg Behavior Model. There may be high motivation to accomplish some task but if there is not easy the task will not be accomplished.

Managers are motivated to provide training but it can be too hard to do. It is not a motivation problem, it is a knowledge and ability problem. If they have to create a large training program to change an employee behavior, they will not do it.

By thin slicing learning, it becomes easy for a manager to create and use the content in changing employee behavior. We need to repackage talent development. Frame learning through a narrow lens by focusing on single concept learning. We should be doing coaching not training. As instruction developers, we need to give managers to easy-to-use tools. By working on small successes, we can develop success momentum. Managers should be talent developers.

Learning and development departments are not to create training, it is to create a learning culture. Learning should be about lifelong learning thin sliced.

Impact on Extension work

Extension is known for their programming, workshops, and hour long presentations. We should definitely continue in this business, but I believe we can do more to support it with thin sliced content. After a presentation, participants should be pointed to online resources containing thin sliced content so they can refer to the material long after the presentation.

We should also build courses that use thin sliced content so that individuals can progress rapidly through the course at their leisure. Thin sliced content will also allow individuals to grab the content they need at the moment they need it without requiring them to sit through 90-minutes of content they do not need at the time.

Cassette TapeRemember when you wanted to listen to a song on a cassette tape. It was a hassle to get to the beginning of a desired song. Now compare that to finding a song on an iPad or iTunes. We should be making it as easy for our learners.

Recommended books

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell.

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr.

What are your thoughts?