Idea Learning Group

"collaborative-learning" Posts

Designing For Bite-sized Learning

After identifying a training need, learning designers often think of the solution as a “program”—the classroom experience, the online courses, and the Learning Management System to organize it all. While robust programs might be best for certain projects, leaving out the in-between “snack times” could mean missed opportunities to engage and reinforce learning. Microlearning, also called “bite-sized learning,” is great strategy for helping learners solve real problems or keeping the them connected to the topic long-term.

Vintage retro candy machines










Bite-sized learning was the topic at our February 2015 Collaborative Learning Network session. As always, the versatile professionals from a mix of industries—healthcare, creative agencies, government programs, and education—helped the topic come alive. We spent 90 minutes defining microlearning, looking at examples, and sharing our own experiences with it as learners and designers.


The sessions aren’t meant to be presentations. I ask a series of questions around the topic, and we have a group discussion. We used a cool online tool called Padlet so participants could contribute insights in real time.

 Padlet screenshot


Click the links to see all our collective responses:

What is “bite-sized learning”?

Some of the benefits we talked about:

  • It’s how we naturally learn.
  • Makes sense for modern learning—fragmented experiences with smartphones, Internet, etc.
  • Small pieces of information are easy to consume.
  • It helps fight cognitive burnout.
  • It’s great for short attention spans.
  • Microlearning is easily accessible—may not require specific software or platforms.
  • It gets right to the point without all the exposition.
  • It’s solution-oriented.

The main theme that came from our discussion was that even when we’re learning unintentionally, we tend to naturally learn in bits and pieces instead of large systems. Instructional designers are trained in terms of chunking. Think of bite-sized learning more in terms of morsels. Microlearning is not just the latest trend—it’s smart design that aligns with the vast discoveries brain scientists have been making over the past several years about what Art Kohn refers to as “the ergonomics of the brain” and how we really learn. (Read about his thoughts on the changing attention span of the adult learner here.)

During our session we always work on a case study in small groups. In keeping with the spirit of the topic, I created four mini scenarios. Here’s an example:

A hotel has a two-day training class to teach new employees customer service skills.  Most employees are between ages 18 – 30. The current training is expensive, and it hasn’t improved customer relations much at the hotel. The hotel management is desperate to appeal to its younger workforce. They want to reduce turnover and build a culture that employees feel proud of. They want creative ideas for engaging employees with this training.

 Could bite-sized learning work well? Why or why not? If so, describe how you’d pitch it to the stakeholders.

 Each group reported back their thoughts and strategies. We came up with a lot of different ideas for how microlearning could work in these scenarios:

  • Single-concept videos
  • Brief (less than 5 minutes) online tutorials
  • Podcasts
  • Games
  • Infographics
  • Job aids
  • One-on-one challenges or discussions with colleagues about the topic

Our next Collaborative Learning Network takes place on Wednesday, April 1 (no joke) at 9 a.m. in the Montgomery Park building in Portland. Contact us if you want to add your name to the invitation list. It’s free to attend, but reservations are required. In the meantime, jump into the discussion on our LinkedIn page.

The Cafeteria Learning Roadshow

We have been riding an exhilarating wave of activity at Idea Learning Group this season! We added Senior Learning Consultant Lisa Rebagliati to our staff. We launched our new website, logo, and brand. And we introduced our new learning model at three conferences. Whew!

For the past few years we’ve been working on developing an alternative model of classroom-based workplace learning we call “Cafeteria Learning.” Instead of an instructor at the front of the room with a cued-up PowerPoint file, we design interactive stations stocked with hands-on materials. Instead of verbal delivery of content, learners are free to explore and absorb the content at their own speed and direction. It’s self-directed and exploratory. Think of it as “Montessori for adults.”

On October 3, Jillian presented the Cafeteria Learning model at the Western Region Research Conference on the Education of Adults (WRRCEA) in Seattle as part of her “Your Brain is Not a Bucket: Learning Through Experience” session. During the session, participants explored games and other activities. Our research and insight report to support our model was included in the conference proceedings.

On October 4, Emily and Jennie facilitated the Collaborative Learning Lab at the annual ASTD Cascadia conference.


Participants explored interactive content focused on topics such as “conflict and collaboration” and “collaboration tools.” They also had the opportunity to construct a group learning guide using the online Moxtra tool.

On October 25, Jillian and Jennie traveled to Sarasota, Florida to facilitate a session at the North American Simulation and Gaming Association (NASAGA) called “Play to Learn: The Cafeteria Learning Model.”


For NASAGA we designed 12 interactive stations where participants constructed things with playful materials, collaborated with others, completed challenges, and contributed their own discoveries and insights to a real-time online binder.

As we continue to expand our projects and add new clients to our business, it’s an exciting time at Idea Learning Group!

Next Collaborative Learning Network: Training Techniques for Introverts

How is being “shy” different from being an introvert? What techniques do you incorporate in your training design or delivery that appeal to introverted learners? If you’re an introvert who works on training programs, what approaches do you use?

At our next Collaborative Learning Network session on Wednesday April 3, our topic will be “Training Techniques for Introverts.” We’ll view clips from author Susan Cain’s TED talk on the power of introverts. Join us to share techniques and to work on a case study together.

Become part of our LinkedIn Group for further discussions and notifications. And new this month: Participate or follow our live tweets @CollabLearn on twitter, starting at 9 a.m. Pacific time. Use #CollabLearn to join the conversation.

We started the Collaborative Learning Network at IdeaLearning Group in November 2012 as a way for people working on similar training challenges to share insights with each other. It’s been almost half a year now since our first session, so we’re reflecting on the program and enhancing it as we plan for future sessions.

We choose a new topic related to learning and development and meet the first Wednesday of each month. A look back:

  • Strategies for Converting Classroom Materials to eLearning, Nov. 2012
  • Assessing Training Needs: Alternatives to Training Courses, Dec. 2012
  • Transforming “Required Training” into “Inspired Learning,” Jan. 2013
  • Storytelling as a Structure for Training, Feb. 2013
  • Social Media and Learning, March 2013

At each session we’ve had between 10 and 20 participants from a wide variety of backgrounds, including healthcare, finance, social services, human resources, program management, instructional design, visual design, and marketing. We take turns leading discussion questions and sometimes work on case studies together. After each session we compile our insights we shared into a report and send it out to the group.

Hope to see you at our session or in our online discussion!


The Promising Future For Mobile Learning

It’s hard to believe, but once upon a time doing research required much more time and effort than it does today. Now most of us carry entire libraries of information in our bags or pockets. For many of us, LBI—life before the Internet—seems like a faraway memory.

The steady development of innovative mobile devices brings exciting opportunities for mobile learning, also known as “mlearning.” Tablets, gaming consoles, smartphones, and other types of handheld units all offer mlearning opportunities. What makes mlearning especially powerful is that it enables easy access to relevant information on demand and on the go.


The concept of mobile learning has already become ingrained in the minds of the youngest generation. (Just observe the baby who can’t get a magazine to “work.”) Although “digital natives” are easily catching on to mobile learning, it’s not gaining widespread traction in schools yet; with limited budgets, it’s not always possible to implement schoolwide mobile learning programs. Still, 40% of teenagers have smartphones and the number is growing. Think of the possibilities!

For students who do have access to mlearning resources, here’s how they’re using them:

  • Taking notes at school using mobile apps
  • Reinforcing learned content through podcasts, videos, and other supporting resources
  • Taking on-the-spot quizzes to measure knowledge
  • Exploring interactive graphics, charts, and timelines online

Mobile learning is also very promising for businesses. In his “Five Steps to Mobile Learning” article in Learning Solutions magazine, Brian Taliesin reports that by 2013, mobile workers will account for 35% of the workforce worldwide. Naturally, mobile workers will need more mobile ways to learn as the remote workforce continues to expand.

The International University Consortium for Executive Education (UNICON) recently issued a report that outlines some of the promising benefits for business-related mobile learning:

  • Just-enough learning: Provides relevant, easily understood content for time-crunched professionals.
  • Just-in-time learning: Offers convenient, flexible information exactly when it is needed.
  • Just-for-me learning: Allows access to content on mobile devices in flexible ways, which makes it appealing to many different types of learners.
  • Collaborative learning: Facilitates working together through use of texting, as well as knowledge-sharing and question-based forums, which can strengthens interaction between participants and instructors.

Like with students in school, the possibilities for workplace learning are enormous. Imagine a forklift driver with easy mobile access to a loading plan, which was updated after his shift began. Or emergency responders who need up-to-the-minute details that helps them maximize their effectiveness on the job. Or a retail sales rep who can order products for customers on the spot. Some of these technologies are already in place, but there is much more room to grow.

Mobile learning doesn’t need to be intensely interactive to be effective. Remember, the focus is to give learners the information they need when they need it an in easily accessible format. That can mean simple text-based instructions, a how-to video, a map, or a reference drawing. For content managers and instructional designers, it’s important to keep in mind that mobile learning usually draws form existing resources. The strategy is to pull together the most relevant information and organize it in a way that maps to how and when the learners need it. Build in practice opportunities to help reinforce learned content.

What mobile learning resources have you used? What do you find most exciting for the future of mlearning?

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