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Eating the Elephant

I have always loved this joke….in fact, I tell it every time I talk with new trainers about structuring their sessions to support learners and increase retention.

Q: How do you eat an elephant?
A: One bite at a time!


So maybe it’s an oldie, but it is so true! The idea of “chunking” learning isn’t new, but it is becoming increasingly relevant as organisations dive into the world of e-learning and blended learning, and it’s especially true for those of us designing learning for people who are busy and looking to fit things into that spare 5 minutes we can find somewhere during the day. I even love the fact I heard someone the other day call it “snackable” learning.If meeting the current needs of learner availability isn’t enough of a reason, how about this:

Research shows that learning presented in these small chunks….

  • Improves the chances of people remembering the content (easier to move the data from our working memory to long term memory)
  • Increases engagement, as people are more willing to complete the learning and even  come back and do more
  • Keeps the designers focused on presenting the “need to know” as there just isn’t much time for the nice to know stuff
  • Encourages designers to include visual and video into the learning, which with most of the population is the easiest way to absorb new information.

Great in theory, but how does this look in the real world? OK, I have two examples here.

Firstly I am reflecting on my own consumer habits as a learner at the moment. Being the fan of experiential learning that I am, I have found developing this website to be my own elephant sized meal. Thank goodness for and other online forums with step by step lessons and videos on how to do all the extra non standard stuff I want to do!

Another great example at the moment is the NSW RFS Next Generation Learning System that I have been involved with. Revolutionising training in the organisation as every existing course is gradually broken up into flexible, interactive and bite sized modules. To stick with the analogies, its a HERD of elephants and will be a smorgasbord of firefighting training snacks available from a Moodle based menu. I am looking forward to seeing how it grows and will be watching closely to see how the “video bytes” accessible from youtube might also be used in the field by members for that just in time learning experience.

Just as importantly, I want to know that the thoughtful instructional design and review that is going into the bite sized learning chunks online will be translated into updated session plans and professional development for the trainers who may continue to deliver the programs in a face to face mode. Online or offline, the concepts are sound!

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