Serve Small Bites.
“‘You look too thin, grandon,’ said my grandmother. ‘Here, eat some more!’”
My friend was telling me this story about a visit he’d had with his grandmother, and I’m sure it’s relatable for many of us. He and his extended family gathered around his grandparents dinner table, already overstuffed and getting sleepy, as his grandmother comes back to the table from the kitchen for the millionth time with yet even more food.
“‘You need more food, grandson. You are too thin,’” he said, laughing, as he imitated his grandmother. He told her he was already full, that he had to leave in a few minutes, and yet she continued to ignore or misread his words as playfulness and piled it on. “It actually got annoying after a while,” he said. “In a way I was kind of insulted, too. Though she didn’t mean to be that way. But still…”
Instructors and professional development directors sometimes miss the signs that they pile on too much material and spoil the learning experience. An overabundance of content heaped onto yet more content and placed in front of an overwhelmed learner who has priorities outside this course is simply way too much. It sours what could have been an otherwise truly excellent moment of growth.
One way we can get around this is to design an appropriately broad menu of content that narrows the range of the content and that scaffolds at a reasonable and logical pace.
Dr. Emtinan Alqurashi at Temple University advises breaking down teaching units into single learning goals, smaller units into reflection, and teaching these microlessons in under 20 minutes. There is a balance here of pace and range of content.
Think of microlessons as a multi-course meal. Think of the stereotypical 5-star restaurant experience and what comes to mind? Chances are you’re imagining beautiful food that comes out in courses, but the portions are pretty small. One reason why the world’s best chefs make such small portions is to hold the focus of the diner on this magnificent delicacy before them that has a look, aroma, taste, and texture that is designed as an experience. This is also why dishes often come out one at a time so that the diner can focus on just. This. One. Thing.
The experience covers an appropriate range of tastes and textures, and it scaffolds from the first to final course.
When it comes to designing a learning experience, model the chefs: purposefully and intentionally limit the range of the material to draw the learner's focus and elevate the magic of the content.