Learn something new in 20 minutes - how 'bite size' training works

It's hard to get people to commit to long training sessions. But at ScHARR, 'bite' size sessions for research, training and collaboration are having a big impact.

, ,

Too busy to learn?

How often do you ask a colleague: "How are you doing?" and get the reply: "I'm really busy". We are all, it seems struggling with the pressure to meet deadlines; to fit in meetings (which invariably lead to more work); and to try to manage our ever spiralling collections of professional and personal content in a variety of formats.

This constant state of busyness often means we have neither the time nor the inclination to learn about new developments and ways we could work better.  Colleagues are often reluctant to commit even an hour, let alone half a day for a training session.  But what about 20 minutes in the middle of the afternoon?

Bite Size training sessions at ScHARR

At the School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR) at The University of Sheffield we run an innovative series of informal 20 minute sessions that are about planting seeds and changing minds. The sessions have two clear strands, one focused on teaching and the other on research. The remit is not to teach people how to use something in their work or study but to let them know why they should use it and how they can employ it. It is hard to teach someone an idea or technology in just 20 minutes, but by showing them the possibilities in an enthusiastic manner you can send them away with at least the intention to explore and experiment. The evidence shows that this organic approach is working - staff and students are starting to use many of the tools that Bite Size has covered. Any kind of widespread change within organisations can be hard to deliver, but by bringing champions on your side, good practice and ideas can spread naturally.

Learning lessons from cricket

Inspiration came from the sport of cricket which in recent years had suffered from falling attendances as people were no longer willing to commit to a full day to watch a game. Cricket responded by creating an abridged format of the game called Twenty20 that lasted for just two and a half hours and was at a time better suited to fans; crowds grew dramatically almost overnight. Very often seminars and lectures, lasting between one to two hours are poorly attended due to the commitment involved for staff in a busy day; Bite Size places less of a demand.

Colleagues sharing expertise

Bite Size grew from the idea that there were new and emerging in-house and external technologies and tools of which many staff and students at ScHARR were unaware. Added to this was the fact that the University is home to a multitude of experts in several areas of technology, research and teaching who are all keen to speak to colleagues about different ways of working or pointing out existing resources and services.

Started in late 2010, previous sessions have covered a variety of topics including Google Docs, How (Not) to Display Data, Screencasting, Prezi, Social Media and RSS. Bite Size is open to all academic and support staff in addition to students. Presenters come from all across the campus with a variety of speakers with backgrounds in teaching, research, administration, technology and research. Initially sourcing speakers was quite challenging but due to the success of Bite Size finding new topics and speakers has become less of a chore as the sessions become more widely known which means there are now staff volunteering to run sessions.

Marketing, evaluation - and cakes!

Bite Size runs on alternative Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays every week to ensure that part-time staff can at least attend some of the sessions. The sessions are advertised on ScHARR Library's blog and Twitter feed in addition to the University of Sheffield's social and collaborative platform uSpace; as well as via colourful posters across the department. Add enticing bite size cakes to the mixture and a ten minute question and answer session at the end, and the results have been extremely positive. A Bite Size questionnaire highlighted that the sessions are positive in promoting new ways of working with over 90% of respondents saying the sessions had been effective in teaching them new skills. Responses as a whole have been very positive and already a programme of Bite Size sessions are planned stretching well into Autumn 2012 covering everything from interactive whiteboards to the Research Excellence Framework (REF).

The authors may be contacted at the University of Sheffield:  Andy Tattersall a.tattersall@sheffield.ac.uk @andy_tattersall; Jenny Freeman j.v.freeman@sheffield.ac.uk The University of Sheffield; Claire Beecroft c.beecroft@sheffield.ac.uk The University of Sheffield.

Photo courtesy of Lara604 via Flickr.