The idea of bite-sized learning has been a popular idea for some time now; businesses and employees are starting to recognise that being overloaded with information isn’t necessarily the most effective way to transmit knowledge. Now, the emphasis is being placed on offering people smaller ‘chunks’ of information to digest and allowing knowledge to gradually build up over time.

For many of us this is the way we naturally learn, at least outside of formal training environments. When we need to know something, we typically just grab the information we need at the time; rarely will an individual read an entire manual to something if they only need a snippet of the information. We actually use bite-sized learning all the time, just in a different way. It therefore makes sense that many people adapt well to this form of training at work. It also fits well around our natural energy rhythms; as most of us know from experience, there is only so long we can maintain our attention on one thing, so bite-sized learning is an ideal way to avoid this dip in concentration that naturally affects us all.

However, one of the pitfalls of this approach is that it can be hard to generate motivation and maintain momentum when dealing with small snippets of learning. With a longer session, there may be trouble in maintaining focus over time, but it does ensure that all of the information can be transmitted in a coherent and logical way. With bite-sized learning there is a risk that if the learning isn’t consistent, then what was already learnt will be forgotten, and will make building upon this knowledge considerably more difficult.

Additionally, finding the time to fit in short-sharp sessions can sometimes be more difficult than booking out a whole day to attend training; while a whole day may seem like more of a time commitment, it is usually easier to schedule and adhere to. For bite-sized learning, individuals need to be committed to making time to access the learning, and when facing a particularly busy day, even taking ten minutes away from ‘real work’ can seem impossible. This will be especially true if the content isn’t particularly easy to access (e.g. a slow log-in process or poorly laid out e-learning system). As a result some employees may feel their only option is to complete training outside of work, and depending on how dedicated (and busy) they are, this may not be a high priority.

It’s clear that, as with most things, bite-sized learning has its pros and cons, and while it is theoretically an approach that should be easy to fit in around other commitments, and one that may suit many people’s natural approach to work, it’s only likely to have a positive impact as long as it is implemented effectively. So before businesses rush to put bite-sized learning options into place, it’s important to consider the steps needed to make it work.

How to make it work

Make it relevant – people that use bite-sized learning in an organic way benefit because they are getting the information they need to solve a distinct problem or inform their choices. If the bite-sized learning being offered by an employer doesn’t meet this need, there will likely be little to no interest. People will be far more likely to engage if they see the relevance of something, so make the aims explicit and be clear on how the content will benefit those accessing it.

Make it accessible – one of the biggest issues with bite-sized e-learning content, in particular, is that the platforms used to deliver the content are often so complicated to use, that people eventually give up trying. It is therefore vital that any platforms or materials being used are easy to access and simple to navigate. This is something that is easier to get right at the beginning rather than remedying in the future, so take time to consider who is using the information, how they will be using it and what information they will want to access as a priority and build a platform that supports this.

Make time – if you are an employer looking to implement bite-sized learning as an accessible and efficient talent development tool, then make sure your employees have the opportunity to use it. Make it clear that you fully advocate them allocating a certain proportion of their work time to their professional development. Similarly, if you are an employee looking to use this method, make sure to discuss it with you line manager and confirm some ground rules for how it will work in practice. Not wanting to ‘lose time’ for training is one of the biggest mistakes employers and employees can make, so in order to use this method to its maximum effectiveness, time needs to be made, even if it’s just a little bit.

Make it consistent – in addition to ensuring you make time for bite-sized learning, making it as consistent as possible is also vital. As mentioned previously, there is a genuine risk that without consistency, all the learning will be quickly lost, so schedule in your development time according to what works best for your natural rhythm, your schedule and what the office policy allows. Then stick to it.

Make it engaging – boring content will forever be the biggest issue in L&D no matter the form it takes, but bite-sized learning only has a very small window to impress its audience, so it needs to be high impact and engaging. The actual information being presented needs to be accurate and relevant, but it also needs to grab the attention of those absorbing it; otherwise it might as well not exist. The way in which this is done will vary, but should consider the audience, the intention of the learning, and the platform being used.

Make it versatile – consider the fact that you will have multiple users engaging with your learning, and that they will all vary in their learning preferences, not to mention environment and time commitments. With this in mind, designing bite-sized learning should incorporate as many different methods as possible to allow for maximum uptake. Some people may not have the time to read a whole article on a topic and would benefit from a video detailing the pertinent points. Conversely some people may not be free to watch a video in their environment so may prefer to read the content. By offering as many different variations of the content as possible, allows for as many users as possible to benefit from it.

With the right approach, bite-sized learning can be an excellent option for those looking to build up their knowledge and who may be facing time constraints that would otherwise prevent them from developing their skills. However, there are aspects that need to be carefully considered before a bite-sized learning programme is launched; simply taking an existing course and splitting it up into separate modules and transforming it into an e-learning programme won’t work. There needs to be consideration of several factors. First, is bite-sized learning the right approach? Sometimes it won’t be and alternative methods need to be explores. Next, review who’s going to use it, and based on this, decide on the best vehicles to transmit the information (e-learning isn’t the only option), to ensure that people can access and use it with minimal hassle.

A well-developed programme of bite-sized learning can allow a wider range of people to develop the skills they need to excel, so getting the basics right is essential and with the right tiny bites, big results really can happen.

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