The ‘Great Bitesizification’ knows no limits

The Prime Minister insisting on receiving important information in convenient, bitesize chunks neatly embodies the ‘on-the-go’, ‘fit it around the day job’ phenomenon that has gripped the world of learning. 

There is nothing wrong with the phenomenon per se. But to me it shows, implicitly at least, that everyone – up to and including the Prime Minister – now prioritises speed and ease over everything else when it comes to knowledge acquisition and by extension skills development.

This is fine in lots of situations, and is understandable in a world where people are balancing an unprecedented number of competing priorities and challenges. But surely we can agree that some things deserve proper care and attention – both in terms of actual time spent, but also the arena and manner in which a topic or skill area is tackled. 

Doing a given thing on the go, or addressing something in bitesize chunks, inevitably makes it transient – something to be squeezed in, something only deserving of your ‘spare’ time, something that your brain should focus on only when it’s not dealing with ‘more important stuff’. When it comes to learning – we run the risk of chopping it so much as to be left with only tiny fragments that become immaterial in isolation, and increasingly difficult to piece together.

This isn’t to say that it’s not possible to deliver exceptional learning in a convenient way, but it’s critical that we continue to recognise its intrinsic value and allow (and encourage) people to engage with it BOTH on the go but also in more focused, robust and ‘inconvenient’ ways. If a piece of learning or skills-development opportunity isn’t worth a few hours of a person’s time, then we have to change the learning or skills development opportunity, not the time allocated to it. 

Finally – learning and development needs to be reframed urgently as being PART of the day job, not something in tension with it. Only then will we all treat it with the respect it deserves and avoid losing its value altogether. It’s totally fine for learning to be designed to fit in with ‘the flow of work’, provided that this is authentic and that learners genuinely see it is another urgent task that requires effort. This relies on strong communication and a culture, from top to bottom, that relentlessly promotes learning in this way. 

Critical government memos shouldn’t be read on WhatsApp – in and amongst the lads’ group chat and holiday snaps – and critical bits of learning shouldn’t only be delivered in tiny, isolated chunks. Because both can lead to problems that will be difficult to undo.