Idea Learning Group

"collaborative-learning-network" 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.

Registration is open for August Collaborative Learning Network

This Month’s Topic: The Evolving Role of the Modern Training Professional

In the age of five billion resources, what is the role of the Trainer/Instructional Designer? As coach? Curator? Motivator? Interpreter?
YouTube. Google. Pinterest. TED Talks. Slideshare. Downloadable this and cloud-based that. If learners are motivated, they will find what they need to take charge of their own learning. What’s more, if you’re planning an HR training event, a safety class, a sales course, a creative thinking retreat, or … whatever, there may be something out there already that’s better than what you could put together on your own.
Let’s explore what value we learning professionals add, and how we can make a strong business case in terms that people will understand.

Ben Carmel, eLearning Strategist at Education Northwest, will be guest-facilitating the free session! You can also participate or follow our live tweets @CollabLearn on twitter.

Registration is free but is required. Please give us 24 hours’ notice if you need to cancel.

Register now!

Register Now for June Collaborative Learning Network

This Month’s Topic: Grand Openings! Hooking Learners From the Very Beginning

With any training program you create, you’ve just got a few minutes to make your case. If your training doesn’t address this question, “Why should I spend my time on this?” you might as well be fishing on a frozen lake. How do you break the ice? How do you communicate the value of your training and the benefits it will provide for your learners? Bring your favorite example of an outstanding opening for a training program, either online or classroom style. We’ll share our examples and work together on a case study to turn a “bland opening” into a “grand opening.”

Jennie Thede from IdeaLearning Group will facilitate the free session. You can also participate or follow our live tweets @CollabLearn on twitter.

Registration is free but is required. Please give us 24 hours’ notice if you need to cancel.

Register now!

The Value of Constructivism in Adult Learning

“Only by wrestling with the conditions of the problem at hand, seeking and finding his own solution (not in isolation but in correspondence with the teacher and other pupils) does one learn.”

~ John Dewey, How We Think, 1910

In adult learning, it’s too easy to fall into the BORED cycle of instruction:

Big promises about what they’ll learn

Overload of information

Rote questioning

Expectation to regurgitate info

Dismissal from memory

Or in elearning terms, it goes like this: Click it. Read it. Forget it.

Designers who create corporate materials too often take this approach, and we often expect it as learners. At our recent Collaborative Learning Network session we focused on one alternative to dull talking-head training: constructivist learning. It’s theory that the instructor (or the instructional designer) should focus on facilitating the construction of learning and not on directly instructing learners. The underlying idea is that people build knowledge and interpret meaning through their experiences.

We play games at IdeaLearning Group. This one's called "Suspend."

We play games at IdeaLearning Group. This one’s called “Suspend.”

Constructivist learning is rooted in the research and theories developed by innovative educators and psychologists like John Dewey and Jean Piaget. It puts the learners in charge of synthesizing and creating artifacts of their own learning experience, building upon prior knowledge. At our session, we talked about different ways we can use techniques from constructivism to help adults learn.

We looked at the Biological Science Curriculum Studies 5E Instructional Model, more commonly called the “5Es,” which was developed in the late 1980s by BSCS. It’s used in science curriculum development, but we found inspiration in this model for adult learning:


  • Engage: Personally involve learners in the experience. Ask them a question or present an object to stimulate their curiosity. Facilitate connections between what the learners already know and are able to do.
  • Explore: Learners directly interact with content/materials and start to build their own understanding.
  • Explain: Learners communicate what they’ve learned and determine what it means to them. New concepts/skills are introduced.
  • Elaborate: Learners apply new concepts in context. They build and extend their understanding.
  • Evaluate: Learners assess their skills, knowledge, and abilities, and work on activities that reinforce their learning.

As a group, we worked on a case study together. This was the premise: 

“You’re in a small training department for a regional department store with 50 retail employees. A new iPad-based system is being implemented that will replace the
cash-register-inspired computers they’re currently using to do transactions on the sales floor.”

Read the whole case study here. The last time training of this magnitude was rolled out for the fictional company, classroom-style, it overwhelmed participants and resulted in frustration and turnover. Our task for this case study was to use the “5E” model to identify constructivist-inspired techniques to help us create an improved training program. Here are some highlights that we brainstormed:

  • Give them all iPads to play loaded with the cash management app before the training program begins.
  • Provide an online “sandbox” environment, loaded with fake data, for the app.
  • Ask them what they already know, and seek to build upon that knowledge.
  • Ask them what they want to learn at the beginning of the session.
  • Provide opportunities for role-plays in small groups.
  • Give them materials to build their own job aids.
  • Create competition among small groups. Who can get through the most transactions in the least amount of time using the new app? Give incentives/prizes.
  • Put participants in a relevant environment—the actual sales floor—to learn about how the new system works.

Check out other highlights from our discussion on twitter @CollabLearn.

Any stories to share about constructivist-inspired learning works in your organization? Please post below.



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