In the world of coffee houses and cafes, size matters. I can order my morning cup of java in about eight sizes, ranging from a single shot to a super large, foam-topped jug. Buyers get to select the size of their cups based on a range of factors, like what’s available, their daily rituals or how their stomachs handle the first tastes of the day. Some will order a medium-sized drink knowing they will follow up with another one after 20 minutes of sipping.
But in the world of learning, most of our cups have been one size. Learning professionals deal with a set of administrative realities, which have led to:
• One-hour webinars: Regardless of the content richness, 60 minutes fits the schedule neatly.
• Two five-day residential courses: If learners have to travel to a training destination, might as well add another day to leverage the transit costs and time.
• Default e-learning module lengths: Companies typically offer 15 minute e-learning segments, five to 13 minutes for a user-created video and 60 minutes for a regulatory offering.
• Books of a certain length: Length traditions even extend to the book world, where publishers want 130 to 280 pages of content to justify the production and retail price, even when a 35-page book would deliver higher impact.
We see these length defaults in large and small organizations. They are reinforced by our instructional designers, managers and even the regulatory agencies that drive much of our compliance-related learning. Learners have come to expect these default rituals as well.
Imagine if learners received a notice about a nine-minute webinar at 3 p.m. today. They would probably have a few immediate reactions:
• “Can’t be that important if we are only spending nine minutes.”
• “Why would they bother to gather us for only nine minutes?”
• “Oh, no. They might be selling the company, and this will be a short shocker.”
But these same learners are deeply engaged in selecting their food sizes. They know how to pick a size that fits their real needs in that moment or to plan on taking the remainder home as leftovers for another round of consumption. Why not provide the same options for learning?
What if an organization rolled out a new process and offered learners a sizing menu?
• Give me a venti module: This would be the grand and deep tour of the content. It would be of longer length and would have detailed procedures, a rich framework overview and multiple levels of context to reflect its use in the workplace.
• Can I have a grande lesson? This would be a smaller version of the venti and would rely more on what the learner already knows or on other learning assets.
• A shot of content, please: The learner gets a strong and short shot of information, procedure and reference. Think of this as a just-in-time performance support element. The shot might be used as a stand-alone asset for a new learner or as a review component for an experienced worker.
• Foam that module with user content: Sometimes the worker knows the information but really needs to understand it from the perspective of others using it in actual work situations. We might take a small shot of content and foam it with video content from many different workers in diverse work settings.
I am not suggesting that we use the exact language of a coffee house or restaurant, but as learning professionals, we might start to devise some fresh and agile language to describe the size and depth of each content module. The language of learning choices should start in K-12 education, continue to higher education and be leveraged in multiple workplaces.
Sizing content should start with education content managers and regulators. It should reflect organizationally assigned content but also deeply enable the learner to be actively and effectively engaged in the learning process.
Elliott Masie is the chairman and CLO of The Masie Center’s Learning Consortium. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.
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