Necessity is the mother of innovation. That is the case with the Learning Burst training method. When I was head of training and development for Pitney Bowes Global Mailing Solutions, I like many other learning leaders had a robust curriculum full of classroom courses and e-learning programs.
Once a month, I would be out in the field meeting and talking with students and their managers. Three things were evident:
Due to their job requirements, the sales force needed to be out getting business and was finding it difficult to find time to train.
There was time to train while driving or walking to and from appointments.
- Many, many students had printed screen captures (hundreds of them) of the e-learning course because they wanted the content without having to be online and read when they needed it.
So I tinkered with a different way to deliver training and decided that we needed to have very short (no more than 20-minute) learning segments that used appropriate technology (meaning not tied to the computer), were self-directed, and had a paper or digital (PDF) takeaway as post course reference. After many experiments, we concluded the following: audio worked (students could listen in the car, on their mobile devices, and at home). Short workbook chapters (3 to 5 pages per audio) were a perfect compliment to the audio segment.
When I opened my own consulting business, I perfected this method as a commercial product and called it “Learning Bursts”—an innovative, fun, engaging and memorable way to deliver training by providing learning in short “bursts.” The unique method gives participants the opportunity to learn at their convenience, without having to disrupt their daily workflow. A Learning Burst is a combination of an 8- to 10-minute audiocast (in a talk show format) and a PDF workbook of supporting material.
How it works
At times, simulations and case studies augment the Learning Burst. The workbook material contains further elaboration of the audio topic, a short quiz, and a prompting exercise to get participants to think about how they would apply what they’ve learned to the workplace. Workbook chapters for each Learning Burst are 3 to 5 pages in length. Each burst is a self-contained discussion of a particular topic and can be taken in any order. Audio segments are in an mp3 format and can be played on any compatible player or device. The design behind Learning Bursts is as illustrated below:
A series of Learning Bursts make up a course, with usually 10-15 bursts per course. Think of it this way: Each burst is a mini-course within itself, and when you combine them, they make up the equivalent of 1 to 2 days of training.
Recently, Powers Resource Center (PRC) used a Learning Burst course (“Business acumen: Your key to success”). They partnered with a B2B marketing agency to develop and design a customized emerging leader program for high-potential employees that were poised to step into a higher-level role in the company in the next five years. The company’s managers chose the participants they believed were ready for the program and worked with those employees to submit an application as to why they were emerging leaders in the company.
The executive team reviewed the applications and chose 10 employees to be part of the 18-month program. The program was tied directly to the values of the organization and followed a competency model that focused on three key leadership areas: transformation, execution, and people. Learning and development topics were chosen for each competency area that were aligned with or supported the company values.
Since the client was an innovative, creative organization it was important that this program was also innovative and creative in terms of how information was presented. PRC took time to build a highly experiential program for participants that included all modalities of learning—media, audio, individual coaching, group activities, live workshops, books, online learning, and business simulations. When deciding how to build the financial skills of the participants under the transformation area, it was important to present the information in a format that was memorable, relevant to the business, and involved key executives.
They decided to implement Learning Bursts and the business acumen course. This approach used audio, workbooks, self-directed learning, and a business simulation activity at the end. By adding some key components to the course such as in-person discussion meetings between modules with the CFO, as well as a presentation of the business simulation results to the executive team (acting as the board of directors), the firm made this financial skills program unique and highly customized. The nice part about the program from a facilitation standpoint is that the company didn’t have a financial expert facilitate the learning. The lessons (bursts) are all self directed, and in this case they engaged the CFO to answer any financial questions specific to the business.
“I have had great success using the Learning Burst method and the business acumen program for a group of emerging leaders. We took it a step further and included the CFO as our subject matter expert for the course and would meet every two to three weeks to discuss the "bursts" that the leaders were focused on,” said Tara Powers, the founder of PRC.
“There are so many ways to apply this learning model and incorporate various SME's into the process. We also used the executive team as the board of directors at the end of the program when the emerging leaders presented the results of their business simulation,” she continued. “The insight that the executives shared with these future leaders about the choices they made in the business simulation provided incredible value and completely engaged participants in their learning process.”
When evaluating the 18-month program, all participants agreed that the Learning Burst program was the most beneficial part of the multifaceted training sessions. It took financial information that is sometimes difficult to understand and broke it down into simple bursts of learning. It involved the CFO and made her available to help accelerate participants’ learning, ensuring that the learning was completely applicable to their specific business. It definitely prepared the emerging leaders for an important skill that they’d need as they moved up in the organization. Financial understanding of how the business operates is a skill that many leaders lack, so it was particularly important to the leadership team that these critical skills are presented in an engaging, easy-to-digest, and memorable way. The company is now considering offering this program to all employees. Additionally, it has become a “staple” program in the emerging leader process offered by PRC in other organizations.