Recently I’ve been thinking of a famous quote popularly attributed to Mark Twain and the French mathematician Blaise Pascal, which states: “I’m sorry I wrote you such a long letter; I didn’t have time to write a short one.”
While many historians doubt the veracity of the quote, it has been employed to illustrate why “bigger” doesn’t necessarily equal “better” in many contexts. Training and development are no exceptions! An emphasis on small forces our learning content to only be the most relevant, the most actionable and the most targeted to the learner. In addition, the small commitment of time entices more learners to actually take the learning, which is especially important as the industry moves towards facilitating more pull–based, rather than push-based learning. Small tip: Provide that short length of time upfront to entice learners to commit.
Learning goes Micro
A few weeks ago I attended the fantastic 2016 ATD conference and Microlearning generated significant buzz during the event. Microlearning is exactly what it sounds, learning broken up into smaller segments. These bite sized pieces of content should be kept short, visual, and simple. Ideally, they can be coupled with “learning challenges” where learners are given very specific problems to solve with clear desired outcomes. The interplay between these small bits of actionable learning, reinforced by small bits of usage, thus minimizing the time between learning and applying, can help learners more fully internalize their newly acquired skills and knowledge. With research from Robert Brinkerhoff concluding that 20% of learners never try to apply new skills back on the job, and an astounding 65% tried applying their new skills but reverted back to their pre-existing modes of operation, it’s more critical than ever to focus on learning retention and skill usage. Oh, and when it comes to mobile learning, the importance of small bits of learning are doubly true.
Small bits of collaboration with instructor led training
Live classroom training is a great opportunity to engage in small bits of social and collaborative exercises between students, instead of focusing excessively on traditional lectures. The lessons of “small” can apply here as well, especially in classes with large numbers of students. Short collaborative exercises can be a great way to reinforce the traditional lecture based learning in a classroom.
Some applicable ideas include:
- Split into small groups of 5-8 people
- As an icebreaker, everyone does a 7 second intro
- Or better yet, everyone describes how they feel in 1 word
- 5 in 5 – Group comes up with 5 ideas in 5 minutes
- Provide all students with a job aide. Keep it small. One page max. Better yet, how about an index card?
- Have students write a 140 character review of the course on their most important takeway
With all the hype these days on big data, some thought leaders in the learning analytics space have advised the opposite; find a few key performance indicators that measure business outcomes and learning input and don’t obsess over complexity or quantity. Relevancy is what’s most important. Think about simple heuristics and rules of thumb that can track your training investments and learner competencies that you can output from a learning management system (LMS). Map those investments to a few relevant business outcomes. While complex data and business integration (BI) tools have their place, plenty of important metrics can be captured using a simple Excel sheet.
When it comes to learning, keep it short, keep it small and keep it sweet. If you follow this framework, you’ll likely see more engagement and knowledge retention from your learners! That’s what we all want, after all.