Smaller, faster, better: that’s the mantra that surrounds learning these days. Just in time, on demand, mobile and chunked. We keep moving towards shorter, more consumable learning experiences, based on an assumption that people won’t engage with longer pieces, or driven by supposed cost reductions from taking less time.
These assumptions may be incorrect though. Sure, you may shave 30 minutes off an individual module or programme, but have you actually effected any change? Is it better to take longer, but make a greater change, rather than compress it and get no change? People go home and watch two hour films, they spend an hour cooking a meal, and bury themselves in a good book or conversation with friends. We are highly discerning of where we invest our time and efforts, and we don’t choose films solely on their length, or books on their thickness. We choose them on relevance, interest, need or impulse.
Part of this comes down to the question of how deeply people actually engage with what you are saying. Are they passive consumers or active participants. And by this, i don’t mean ‘are we making them click next a lot’ in some dreadful notion that this will embed learning or drive engagement. Being actively involved is an emotional, intellectual as well as physical state. We will draw people into engagement through making our content engaging and magnetic, fascinating and challenging in equal measure.
There is an interesting article here, which inspired me today (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-15757413), looking at the slow pace of some recent TV series. Personally, i favour the kind of adrenaline fuelled, explosive pace of 24, where Jack lurches from one testosterone driven ambush to the next, but the point of the piece is that emotional engagement can be a more subtle affair. Indeed, some of the drama they talk about has a narrative style more akin to that of a book than a TV series. The idea is that, with a slower, more carefully paced piece, we tend to engage on a more empathetic, emotional level.
It’s interesting to explore how much we assume that just saying it louder, shorter and with more impact will somehow make the message more relevant or more effective. It might be that we need to challenge some of these assumptions, to explore where it is appropriate to extend the learning over time, to draw out these stories at a more considered pace.
Duration is not the only measure of success. The ability for people to emotionally connect to the issue, to care about what we are telling them, to connect with interpersonal skills as well as intellectual ones, using characters that we build over time and care about enough to follow. These are all techniques that are worth considering and exploring.