Delivering eLearning in Bite-sized Chunks

boxed-chocolatesYou’re excited about the new ordering process you recently discovered which is shown to increase sales and customer satisfaction through reducing lead time by 25%. There is a challenge, though. You have to train your sales reps how to use the process, so they, in turn, can train current and potential customers. On your weekly call, you offer to hold a one-day training workshop in the office. Your team groans collectively in response. Instead, you suggest that you ask the training department to crank out a series of WBTs they can take instead. Your team replies with varying excuses as to why they are too busy to sit down to complete any formal training. Your team feels like you are asking too much of them, and you are left frustrated that this new process may never reach your customers.

What if there was a way to train your team without interrupting their hectic schedules? What if you could train them using the tools already installed on their smartphones and do it in such a way that only takes moments of their time?

There is a way, and chances are you’ve been doing it already, even if you don’t realize it. Remember the email you sent your team regarding the change to the time entry system? That was a form of eLearning. How about the text message you sent your lead sales rep regarding the customer’s requirement for a signature at the delivery dock, or your call to the new intern about proper use of his security badge? They’re both eLearning too.

Bite-sized eLearning: Going Social

Bite-sized learning takes place every day – at the water cooler, on the bus, and in the airport – but can you take a medium that is naturally informal and leverage it to develop your team? You can, and let’s take a look at some examples how to do it.

Facebook has nearly 1.4 billion active monthly users. Twitter users send more than 500 million tweets per day. Social media connects people to one another at a global level, but it doesn’t need to be limited to conversations about weight loss fads, political rants, or cat memes. Chances are, every member of your team is active on social media in some form, and tools exist to reach them as easily as posting on their timeline. In fact, companies have created their own variants of a social media platform that enable employee collaboration and provide custom news feeds pertinent to the employee, just like you would find on Twitter or Facebook.

Unlike web-based training or even e-mail, social media relies heavily on short, frequent bursts of information. So, you shouldn’t try to post the same volume of content that you would in a WBT, but instead create a concise message covering the most critical point(s) and let the platform drive the learning. As Jessica Athey suggests, “In this “information now” era where access to information is conveniently at our fingertips at any given time, learners do not typically want to delve into text-heavy or time-consuming e-learning content; Learners want quick, bite-size pieces of information.”

Let’s think about how you can use social media to teach your team about the new ordering process. Start by creating a group for your team on your social media platform or online collaboration tool such as Basecamp or Jive. Post a message to the group that, by following the new process, their workload will decrease and their opportunity for extra commissions will increase. Within minutes your team starts commenting on the post, asking questions, and engaging in conversation. In essence, your teaser created an outlet for a discussion which sparks the learning. Then, you respond to those questions with specifics around how the plan will work, and what changes your team needs to make to succeed. By the end, you’ve created purposeful, on-the-fly eLearning, delivered in bite-sized chunks that your team reviews at their convenience.

There are times when text conversations aren’t sufficient to deliver your message. Video platforms like YouTube let you expand your learning capabilities by enabling you to create short video tutorials. Video is a good medium to demonstrate an often incorrectly performed system task or to show an excerpt from a company presentation or knowledge leader.

Many other bite-sized methods exist, including podcasts, blogs, and virtual meeting places like Google Hangouts. Regardless of the means, your team members should not spend more than one to two minutes with your content at a time. Remember, your goal is train your team as non-intrusively as possible, which is a core benefit to bite-sized eLearning.

Leveraging Bite-sized eLearning Benefits

Delivering learning content at a minimal cost is another benefit to the bite-sized method. As you’ve read in the above examples, use existing social platforms to remove the need to purchase expensive software or develop traditional eLearning documents. This way, delivery is in a format in which your team has real-time access (i.e. their smartphones) and already comfortable using.

Speed is another benefit. Learning content can be delivered to your audience as fast as you can click Post in many cases. There is also a decreased burden on you, the author. It’s faster to tweet your team than it is to create entire training documents, and the informal medium means you don’t have to be a wordsmith.

Lastly, using social media to communicate with your team enables discussion and collaboration. Where traditional eLearning often isolates the learner from his/her team for the actual learning event, learning via a social platform brings the team together through online conversation. As a side benefit, replying to posts eliminates inefficient and annoying email chains while likely achieving better results.

Managing Bite-sized eLearning Risks

Educating your team through these non-traditional means does not come without risk. As mentioned before, bite-sized eLearning, especially when delivered through social media platforms, is informal by nature. As a result:

  • Information can be difficult to verify,
  • False/inaccurate information proliferates easily, especially in replies and comments, and
  • The resulting debate and/or conjecture can be off-putting to your team.

You feel confident in the initial message you deliver, but what if the information becomes skewed as your team discusses it in their replies? Just like in an everyday business meeting, you need to manage the conversation and make sure your team stays on point while clarifying any misconceptions. Actively post in the conversation and be ready to edit your initial message as necessary.

In addition, you must be concerned with the integrity of your data. Confidential information is easily leaked when released on a large-scale social platform, especially if the proper care is not taken. Leaked information or information taken out of context can be damaging to you and/or your company’s reputation. Only deliver business-critical content in a secure environment and make sure you understand the platform’s data ownership rights before you post.

Information distributed in small chunks lacks depth when compared to traditional learning content from a WBT course or process documentation. For that reason, bite-sized eLearning cannot replace traditional eLearning for depth of knowledge, nor should it try. Instead, bite-sized eLearning must have a very narrow, focused scope, otherwise the message risks being too vague or misunderstood. Bite-sized eLearning done in conjunction with, not in place of, traditional eLearning forms a powerful means of educating both short- and long-term.

Adapting to the Next Generation of Learners

As the modern workforce continues to be more connected digitally, and less connected by proximity, learning methods need to adapt. As John Grubbs writes, “In the workplace of the near future, companies will invest millions of dollars to place training content (knowledge) on platforms like YouTube for employees to access on demand… Cutting edge organizations will push bite-sized content (140 characters or less) that employees find valuable or necessary for success on the job. The idea is that an information hungry generation of workers will consume this information and learning or information transfer will take place.” Employees want easy, instant access to information, and managers must adapt to their needs.

However, don’t be surprised if you meet some initial resistance to this learning format. Team members favoring traditional learning methods may balk at the idea that learning can be delivered a couple sentences at a time. With that said, try different approaches to see which are most effective for your team. Research what teams with similar learning needs have done, and of course, ask your team for feedback. This is social learning after all; what better way is there to improve your techniques than to talk about it?

Sources:

Chris Denman

Chris is an independent business education and management consultant. He worked his way through the ranks of IT consulting as a training developer, technical architect, team leader, and service delivery manager. His professional interests include the integration of process modeling and training, interactive learning, and change management. Outside of work, he is often seen sporting tech shirts, chasing his kids around the soccer field, and watching American Ninja Warrior. You can find him on Linkedin and follow him on Twitter.

Read more articles from Chris Denman Twitter