Bite-Size Content and The New E-learning with Stephen Meyer (notes)

Notes on Stephen Meyer’s 2014 ASTD presentation Brief is Beautiful: Bite-Size Content and The New E-learning (S12EXD)

  • Very timely information
  • With the whole world moving to mobile devices, this was particularly useful
  • Brevity is a constant challenge, so personally rewarding
  • In the past e-learning was 30, 60, 90 minutes, translation: L-O-O-O-N-G. The problem with legacy e-learning was it’s length which lead to poor utilization
  • Good news for e-learning ahead due to the following key factors: Demographics, Absorbing Information, M-Learning, Focus on ROI

New E-Learning vs Legacy E-Learning

  • Information Design is the heart and soul of the new e-Learning
  • New e-learning relies on Thin Slicing, an information design technique that has the potential to change the way you think about learning
  • Video-ized learning (like and is really BIG. But not in corporate e-learning especially in regards to soft skills.

Wave 2: The Age of Instructional Design

  • In 1999, $800 Million invested in self-paced e-learning (Wow) but investments in the following years evaporated. Who wasn’t ready for e-learning? Developers. Users were ready.
  • Dirty little secret of e-learning industry is that utilization is really, really poor (for legacy e-learning).

Wave 3: The Age of Information Design (Stephen decided it started in 2010 because it’s his talk)

  • Information design = The art of presenting content in a way that engages people = mechanics = art piece
  • It’s complementary to Instructional Design
  • What is training? A legacy definition would be “… the achievement of the pre-determined learning objectives through planned instructional techniques”
  • For Information designers, training is: (1) about changing behavior and (2) an act of persuasion
  • The 2 key questions for Information Design are (1) What’s the medium? and (2) Who is my audience?
  • What’s the medium? “The Medium is the message.” Marshall McLuhan
  • Ask yourself: Who is my audience? What makes these people tick? What do they want to learn?
  • “Digital immersion has even affected the way [Millennials] absorb information. They don’t necessarily read a page from left to right…” Nicholas Carr
  • We are living in a post-Gutenberg Age (aka the Book Age) according to Nicholas Carr
  • Books are linear, logical, and complete. Today’s people don’t want that! Linear learning isn’t what people want.
  • 1980-2010 was the The Age of Instructional* Design

How to Think About Information Design:

  • A common learning scenario we all find ourselves in: a single person, standing, with a tablet or phone and maybe 7-8 minutes before boarding a plane

Three emerging trends that define The New E-learning

  1. Rapid Learning - bite-sized learning
  2. Single-Concept Learning. This is the opposite of multi-concept learning. Cognitive load research suggests we’re not good at understanding multiple concepts at the same time.
  3. Thin Slicing (comes from Malcolm Gladwell’s book “blink”):
    • single compelling concept
    • intentionally incomplete

Examples of thin slices:

  • “How do I fire an insubordinate employee?”
  • They had a request for this and the customer’s request did the thin slicing for them. “insubordinate employee” was specific enough.
  • How do I deal with a bad attitude?
  • How do I counter a price objection?
  • How do I get past a gatekeeper?
  • How do I fix the belt on my dryer?
  • These are all “google searches” aka “thin slices”
  • Note: “Chunking” is not the same as thin slicing, because thin slicing starts with the thin slices

If you want to teach a series of concepts, which method (single vs multi-concept) works best?

  • Group 1: Isolated elements (single concept)
  • Group 2: Interacting elements (multi-concept)
  • According to an E. Pollock (+ more names I didn’t catch), GROUP 1 Did twice as well on the test

  • Another trend: ‘Coaching’ rather than ‘Training’

Survey: Why do you want shorter e-learning modules? (done by Stephen w/ learning professionals)

  • 21% short attention spans
  • 14% mobile learning
  • 65% increase manager involvement

Fogg Behavior Model contains three inputs:

  • motivation
  • ability
  • triggers

  • Behavior on top side of action line happens. Below the line, it won’t happen.
  • Behavior = motivation ability trigger (B = mat)
  • Success Momentum (BJ Fogg) is success begets more success

How to re-package talent development:

  • Frame it through a narrow lens
  • Think “single-concept learning”
  • Define the task as “coaching,” not “training”
  • Give managers easy-to-use tools

Three key takeaways:

  1. We are living in a post-Gutenberg Age thanks to technology, demographics, time
  2. Thin slicing is different than chunking
  3. Single concept learning works better than multi-concept learning

Links: Rapid Learning Institute, @rlinstitute

Additional ASTD 2014 Session Notes:

It is All in the Mind: Change the Way You Think About Change

Brief is Beautiful: Bite-Size Content and the New E-Learning

Transmedia Storytelling. A Hero’s Journey Through New Media

Practical Use of Social Media adds value to Formal Learning

The Power of Energy Microbursts for Increased Health and Performance


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