Years ago I joined an organization and discovered a character who worked there. He was an interesting blend of wisdom, mischief, creativity, and crazy. You know that type. I’d find him engaged in some strange activity, or distilling some semi-absurd piece of advice, and think, “What in the world??!!?!” I’d walk away and invariably the idea or activity would start to unfold in my mind; and what seemed like utter nonsense started to bloom into genius. So here’s one of his “crazy” ideas.
One day I walked into his office for some reason, and he immediately started in with an idea he was toying with. “People who train in short bursts are vastly more effective at creating behavior change.” I thought to myself, “Did he just say training in short bursts? What in the world?” I listened politely as he went on to describe that breaking training into small chunks and delivering it over a spaced period of time allows participants to assimilate the learning points and have them incorporate the new ideas into their everyday routine. All the while I was generating reasons why the idea was more crazy than practical. And can you blame me? Even the term “short bursts” was a little on the “far out there” side (ok, maybe a lot on the “far out there” side). Some of my other colleagues confirmed my original thoughts when they came up with the slightly mocking slogan, “Look Mom! I’m training in short bursts!”
Fast forward some years. I was working on particularly difficult training rollout design. We were trying to transform training’s image from learning event to learning experience. We need to make sure that leaders, especially the mid-level group, were having more regular learning experiences. I was wrestling with how to do this when it hit me, “We need to take this program and spread it out over a longer period of time. We need to ‘train in short bursts!’” The idea had come full circle. We did it, and it worked.
Since that time, a lot of research has emerged confirming the results we experienced in that organizational initiative. Anders Ericsson, for one, in his research, demonstrates the benefit of breaking ideas and concepts into small pieces (I wonder if he researched in short bursts?).
It’s a funny thing to consider how what once was a crazy, outlandish, radical idea is now one of the best-proven ways to go about training. So now I say to you, “Go forth and train in short bursts!”