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'Learning Bursts': A Different Way to Deliver Training

With employees being too busy for long training sessions, a series of short lessons can provide learning in bite-sized bits.

March 23, 2012
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Related Topics: Learning Delivery, Blended Learning, E-Learning, Formal Learning, Learning Delivery
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In the midst of an economic recovery, companies have trimmed labor forces while preserving or expanding the level of service and product offerings. This has placed stress on an already task-saturated workforce which simply cannot afford time away from the job for training. Couple that with the new skills and capabilities needed to meet emerging market demands, along with reduced training budgets, and the need for a different and more cost-effective model to deliver training has risen.

Enter the “learning burst” model.

A learning burst is a combination of an eight- to 10-minute audio cast similar to a talk show, which can be played on any compatible player or device. It also includes a document, or “workbook,” of supporting material, with three to five pages per chapter or topic of simulations and case studies to augment the learning burst, as well as a short quiz and a prompting exercise to get participants to think about how they would apply what they have learned. Each burst is a self-contained discussion of a particular topic or subject.

A series of bursts make up a course, with usually 10 to 15 bursts per course. Think of each learning burst as a mini-course within itself. And when you combine the bursts, they make up the equivalent of one to two days of training.

Each learning burst has a target length of 20 minutes. The student listens to the audio segment of eight to 10 minutes. This is not a podcast but is based on the late-night TV show format such as the “Tonight Show,” a two-person dialogue in which the host interacts with the student to discuss one topic or concept. The audio segments use the “edutainment” approach: they combine education and entertainment into the learning.

Next, the student reads the workbook, which provides further content that supplements the audio segment. The workbook is written in the key learning point method where the student reads a topic — one to three paragraphs maximum — and then stops reading and interacts with the content by doing an exercise.

Learning burst chapters are typically made up of five to eight key learning points. Tables, charts, graphs and pictures are used to supplement what is being read and was heard in the audio. A three-question quiz is provided to reinforce the learning, and the learning burst ends with students completing an action plan on how they will apply what they have just learned.

Learning occurs while taking the course, though it truly becomes part of the student’s new cognitive skill set when it is applied and used. To that end, learning bursts feature simulations or case studies to reinforce the learning.

Ways to Use Learning Bursts
What are some of the ways companies are using learning bursts?

• A stand-alone replacement for traditional classroom or online courses.
• A supplement to traditional classroom or online courses.
• A post-work assignment.
• A blended solution, in combination with a series of supporting webinars.

In the blended approach, a group of students are assigned to a learning burst course. They attend a kickoff webinar in which the course is introduced and learning bursts are assigned. Students complete the learning bursts individually. A mid-session webinar is held for two reasons: it answers questions about any of the content and puts the students into virtual teams to complete a simulation or case study.

A final webinar is then held in which the students present their solution to the case study or simulation, and the program is then closed.

Some advantages of using learning bursts:

• Mobile — learning can be taken anywhere and not tied to a computer or the Internet.
• Flexible and focused — learning bursts are designed so they can be taken in any order; each burst is a stand-alone “micro” course.
• No new technology is needed — learning bursts use MP3, PDF and Java files.
• Cheaper than classroom training — travel, facility costs, food, printing materials, etc., are all eliminated, making learning bursts attractive.

Dave Basarab is a senior learning executive and the founder of Dave Basarab Consulting. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.

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