The recipe for learning? A bite-sized lunch

The recipe for learning? A bite-sized lunch


CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Alex Aylar

CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Alex Aylar

If an App Swap Breakfast isn’t for you then perhaps something Bite Size is. In a day full of interesting presentations at the UCISA Changing Landscapes event this is the one that piqued my interest the most.

How many times have you heard:

“I don’t have time to come to training”,

“Is there an app for that”,

“How will that help me”?

Today there is a plethora of choice in what technology or process we choose to employ to achieve our desired outcome…and how may times have I heard the phrase “they don’t know what they don’t know” recently? The reality is that we all feel the pressure of too much to do and so little time that we find it hard to explore how we can do something differently or better. As Andy Tattersall and the team from School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR) at the University of Sheffield  asked are we “Too busy to learn?”1

They decided yes and that they needed to take a different approach to support staff development that fitted in with heavy workloads and busy schedules. In 2010 Andy took some inspiration from cricket, where the introduction of a short form Twenty20 has reinvigorated the game. The outcome for the ScHARR team was ScHARR Bite Size: Learn Something New in 20 Minutes2, where the remit is not to teach people how to use something but why they should use it and how they can use it in their work.

The team now run around 70 sessions, on a wide range of topics that link technologies and innovations to learning and teaching activities. With staff now volunteering to run sessions so they’ve definitely hit on a winning formula.

So besides only taking 20 minutes  (with an extra 10 mins for Q&A) what else is important?

The message I took away is that location is everything. The sessions need to be informal in a space close to your intended audience and preferably not too large. Andy left me with an image in my head of 22 cricketers crowded on a smallish dance floor. What you are aiming for is something that looks busy and interesting so passers by will stick their head in to see what’s going on. No one wants miss out on anything – right?


CC BY 2.0  Dance Floor  John Benson

CC BY 2.0 Dance Floor John Benson

The timing of the session is important too. The ScHARR team started with sessions at 2.30pm, when there was a natural break in the day and on different days of the week to accommodate different working patterns. Sessions have recently moved to 12.30 pm, which has seen audience sizes pick up again. So even when you have a winning formula you still have to mix things up once in a while.

The third ingredient in the mix is Marketing, helped in no small part by the promise of cake, bite size of course, to go with the coffee the participants are encouraged to bring along.

Can we utilise this approach at NTU?

Why not? A former colleague of Andy’s has moved to the University of Leeds and introduced minimasterclasses , providing further proof that this is a successful formula.

I’ve  been tasked to develop a programme to help staff “Get to Grips with” various digital practice topics. I see something “Bite Size” as way of realising what they don’t know and inspiring them to find out more.  I’ve got some ideas for topics, I can get some tubs of bite size cakes from the supermarket down the road so I just need to find some dance floors!

1. Tattersall, A. Freeman, J, V. Beecroft, C, A. (2011) Learn something new in 20 minutes – How ‘Bite Size’ Training Works Information Today [online] [last accessed 19/02/14)

2. Tattersall, A. Freeman, J, V. Beecroft, C, A. (2013) Learn something new in 20 Minutes: Bite Size sessions to support research and teaching Health Information and Libraries Journal, 30 (3), 253-258

About the author

As a digital practice adviser, I provide a range of professional development activities and learning resources that help colleagues integrate digital technologies in to their practice.

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