Snack Attack – Beware the pitfalls of bite-sized learning

The theory of how people learn and the different styles of learner hasn’t changed for years. There are many models presented by well researched educationalists and theorists, yet they are very similar.  

An example is SAVI, often used within Accelerated Learning techniques. This says that individuals learn by using four senses: Somatic, Auditory, Visual and Intellectual. We may display a preference to one or more methods, but we will use a combination of all four throughout our learning. 

What is interesting is how like-minded individuals, particularly in the same job role, display similar learning traits, with all tending to sway towards one or more learning styles.  

This is critically important when creating content. If the method of learning is not matched to the dominant learning style of the individuals, they will not efficiently engage with the content, and the learning objectives and outcomes will not be achieved. 

But what has changed is our preference for the way in which we learn. This isn’t about changing our learning styles, they’re still vitally important, but it is about changing the way we consume learning. 

Today’s generation of learners, and those of decades to come, have grown up in an increasingly digital environment, driving online mobility and social networking.  

Not only that, but our lives seem to have become busier and more chaotic, with increasing pressure to complete tasks, including learning, in less time.  

Some might even argue that new technologies, which are designed to simplify our lives, are often exacerbating the situation.  

And, the new digital world has reduced our attention span even further. We all know that if a video is longer than 2-3 minutes we switch off, and even that time is becoming too long. 

Enter the concept of bite-sized learning. There are many definitions for this, often focussed on how long it takes someone to complete the learning, and that typically could be anything up to ten minutes.  

Another way of defining this, and one used here at Amphigean, is creating content which is ‘snackable’ – that is, a learner can consume the content and digest it in those times throughout the day when they have a spare moment.  

There aren’t many learning providers who haven’t yet adopted bite-sized learning and it’s driving the output of projects when it comes to Instructional Design. 

We now see short, 1-minute or less, animated videos, infographics, quick-fire games, brief podcasts and simple navigable PDFs summarising key learnings.  

Often these are designed for consumption on mobile devices, fuelling the ability to snack when the time is right and supporting ‘just-in-time’ learning, particularly when on the job. 

Bite-sized learning is certainly transforming the way we learn and produce content, yet there are many pitfalls to avoid. Bite-sized modules, by their very definition are short. They don’t cover a lot of ground when it comes to learning and so many modules are needed to achieve learning objectives. 

The way we present modules to learners is therefore all-important and can determine the success or failure of learning programmes. 

You only need to think back a few years for a comparison. Signing up to your learning programme often meant enrolling for one or two 30-minute modules on a topic. Now it can include ten short videos, three infographics, a few games, some short PDFs, and so on. 

The first tip is to ensure you add variety – watching video after video without any other kind of learning interaction is a sure way to put your learners to sleep. You can’t ignore how we learn and the different learning styles that you’re trying to address. 

The second tip is to rethink your learning objectives. It’s not enough to just gather the detailed content, previously delivered in longer sessions, and simply convert it into bite-sized chunks. Your learners will be put off before they even start by the sheer number of modules to complete. Instead, take the opportunity to re-evaluate what you’re trying to achieve and where possible – simplify it. 

And finally, the most important pitfall to stay well clear of, and that is forgetting about context.  

We all need guidance, sign-posting or to be engaged with a story. We need the context to make sure the learning is going to be meaningful. That way we will engage with it. Snacking on bite-sized learning without any reference to context will not deliver the required results. 

So it’s important that you create the context, and that can be achieved in many ways. Designing an infographic which tells the story, with embedded bite-sized modules behind it, does just that. Or building a content wrapper that signposts a learning journey through the bite-sized modules and in a particular sequence will work. 

It’s not to say that bite-sized learning can’t work as a standalone module, but let’s try to make it easier for learners and improve our chances of learning success. 

As specialists in the design, build and delivery of clear and concise digital content and learning programmes, Amphigean’s advice and approach to bite-sized learning goes hand in hand with our company mantra – make the complex simple.