Is the Future of Learning Bite-Sized?

These three trends are driving big changes in the industry and make a strong case for bite-sized learning.

Three trends are driving big changes in the learning and development industry, and none have anything to do with informal learning, mobile learning or game-based learning. These trends are miniaturization, modularization and mass customization.


Miniaturization refers to the distilling of a learning experience into smaller, more easily consumed packages. Miniaturization is everywhere, from the size of 32 gigabyte flash drives to wafer-thin televisions.

This shift has repercussions for learning and development functions. Previously, a one- or two-day program would have been acceptable. Now the market is consistently seeking shorter and sharper experiences with immediate practical application. A poll of roughly 200 learning and development practitioners in February showed that more than 90 percent agreed that they will be looking to miniaturize their learning experiences in the year ahead.

For many learning practitioners, however, miniaturization is a challenge. Quality is often mistakenly equated to comprehensiveness. A review of the learning portfolio of Sainsbury’s, a supermarket in the U.K., discovered that among some very well-designed materials, the training manual explaining how to handle shopping carts ran more than 50 pages. Learning design needs to focus on results rather than coverage.

According to the 80-20 rule — or Pareto principle, named after the economist Vilfredo Pareto — for many events roughly 80 percent of the effects come from 20 percent of the causes. In other words, people spend 80 percent of their time in 20 percent of their household space. Another example: 80 percent of listeners’ time is spent on 20 percent of the tracks on their music player.

If we apply this logic to learning, 80 percent of the business results and value comes from 20 percent of the experience or content. The ability to distill and concentrate learning experiences therefore reduces cost and increases return on investment. To do this, learning leaders must ruthlessly focus on the real-world problem that is being solved by the experience.


Modularization involves organizing an offer into distinct components to create greater flexibility for learners. When it comes to emotionally bound products like personal development, consumers demand choice. Flexible benefits are a good example of this trend. Each benefit — 401(k), health care, child care, dental and gym membership — is disaggregated into separate packages.

Many industry observers say that this is one of the hallmarks of a progressive organization. Business leaders are asking for modularization so that development is focused on a specific need, avoiding wasted time or energy on an issue that isn’t a priority.

The act of modularizing means thinking fresh about an organization’s learning portfolio. Break and concentrate long courses into distinct, independent and high-value experiences. Design modules with the participant in mind. Frame experiences to create excitement and a touch of anxiety to fully engage the learner.

Mass customization

A high quality of learner engagement is perhaps the most important factor in creating a sustained change to behavior. A very powerful way of doing it is making the journey unique to that individual. Doing so increases the perceived value of the experience by making it feel more relevant and useful.

It would therefore be wise for learning leaders to develop their organization’s learning portfolio along similar principles — by offering a finely tuned menu or, alternatively, a mechanism that allows people to navigate an offer effectively and drive a better return on investment for their business.

This can be done using online tools such as an online diagnostic tool, which can provide learners with both competency feedback and a unique learning experience. This helps leaners see the direct relevance and value of the learning. The organization also saves money by not wasting time on experiences they don’t need.

When these three mega-trends are acted upon, a learning offering looks like a bite-size approach — short experiences woven together around the business’s and participants’ needs. This in turn drives deeper learner engagement, greater transfer and an increased return on investment from an organization’s learning activities.

Sebastian Bailey is the president and co-founder of Mind Gym, a learning and development firm. He can be reached at