Simplicity in Learning

There is beauty in simplicity.


Simplicity speaks to us, captures our emotions, tells a story and in some cases propels us to act.


L&D people, God love ’em, are the embodiment of over-thinkers. The originators of the overly complex. “If one is good, more must be better”. The world is looking toward simplicity, in architecture, in art, in writing and in our lives but…

L&D is still looking for the LMS that will do everything except wash your dishes.

L&D is still looking for bells, whistles, butterflies and unicorns for its elearning courses. “If one is good more must be better” 

L&D is still looking for the formula to make their jobs easier, yet development more complex. ADDIE, SAM, Gagne, Blooms, Kemps. “If one is good, more must be better”.

L&D leaders are still looking for L&D professionals with alphabet soup behind their names, because simple demonstrative, relevant experience can’t possibly be proof enough.

Simple is our nemesis. If the solution is simple; it can’t work, it won’t be transferable and therefore it certainly cannot be measured. GAH. 

There are so many simple solutions to complex problems. Is it because they are simple that we over-think them? Is it because they are simple that the ideas are discarded? Simple is back to the basics. In this case back to “NEW” basics. There has been a lot of complex talk about the concept of micro-learning. A lot of high-level, complex debates on its definition and use. To keep it simple, I’ll tell you which definition speaks to me:

Clock time flat

I also like this short, simple post he wrote for the elearning Industry, giving us all 5 rules of the road for producing micro-videos. “Micro-Learning” is HUGE.  To put it in simple terms, the time for over-analyzing the “if” of simplicity is over – regardless of your debate position, your research, or your LMS – your people are waaaaay over L&D controlling their learning and they are working around you. Now it’s time for L&D to play catch-up and discard the reputation of being the “no” department but becoming the “I gotcha covered” department.


The beauty of simplicity. The beauty of simple facts.

  1. Technology knowledge turnover is 2.5 years. The life of your technical knowledge is very short. Your skills will be obsolete before you finish your next LMS implementation. (As well as its operating system). We no longer have the luxury of time on our sides to create learning that has minimal impact, to which we have to go back to the drawing board. Hamster wheel anyone? (ref 1)
  2. Digital skills gap today cost businesses $1.3 TRILLION dollars in lost productivity. Yep, that trillion with a T. People spend upward of 21% looking for how to do sh** in your LMS, in your intranet, within SharePoint – wasted time. Wasted time, wasted productivity dollars. Dollars that if weren’t wasted, could be used to create more “Just in Time” learning.  (ref 2)
  3. We still spend far.too.long. creating stuff that will be obsolete the moment it’s published. ATD estimates we spend anywhere from 43 – 185 development hours  for one hour worth of training. Conservatively. Over-think much? Over-analyze much? (ref 3)

Then combine the third statistic with this last one: The training created impacts fewer than 15% of the participants. Fewer than 15% say they actually apply the learning into their day to day.  What the what? Now we are wasting our time too, wouldn’t you rather be creating something that has an impact? That people use, that they recommend to other people to use? I would. 


The beauty of simplicity. The beauty of cutting out the bloat.

The beauty of focusing on the now, and pushing the “Nice to Know” to the periphery. Simply put, most skills are just groups of smaller, different skills with only a few used regularly. (Example: Writing a Blog) Address THOSE skills. Then offer modular content to deepen one’s understanding of the concept, allowing for people to surf for knowledge as they do when they surf to find the best brownie recipe (which incidentally is here). Wait, what? But I need them to learn part 1 before part 2 and part 2 before part 27. Really? Seriously really? No, really? 

When we put the beauty that is micro-learning (or micro-anything for that matter) up against the L&D traditional training structure, and development methodology, it is almost embarrassing. The time we waste trying to fit a solution to a problem that may or may not exist is insanity. This is not to say there isn’t a time and place for a Big Hunka Burnin’ Love type of course. However, for the most part, we are steadfastly moving away from the model.

You want to see micro-learning in action, go to YouTube. Search: “How to Draw”, 6,790,000 views pop up. Now narrow it down, “How to Draw a Perfect Circle” viola 172,000 results. It took me less than a minute to parse down what I needed to find. Then, as with other mortals, I selected the shortest video at 1:33.  Now I can draw a perfect circle and so can you.


What’s the point? Simple is better. 

1) Know your audience needs. (I need to draw a circle)

2) When do they need it? (Now – of course)

3) Create the information. Check out this video lesson on micro-video’s and then read this post on how to create the micro-video (very meta doncha think?) Via Tom Spiglanin 

4) Store information where they can find it. (YouTube rocks)

Learning Rebels like to keep things simple and not the dumbing-it down type of simple.  Further don’t get me wrong, being simple certainly doesn’t mean easy, nor does it mean fast with poor quality. It means simple for them, learning being clear, targeted and focused- that kind of simple. Now, what can be done to keep learning development simple?


Here are three key questions to ask when developing your micro-learning activity.

1) Why this, why now – You need a clear, focused answer. Think twitter. You’ve got 140 characters to tell me “why people need this learning, right now?” What problem is it solving?

2) Who EXACTLY is the audience? Simple learning design is targeted design. You can’t create a micro-anything if the demographic is too wide. “Don’t use a cannon to kill a mosquito” ~ Confucius

3) What EXACTLY do they need to know? Did I need to know how to draw a triangle, a square, or a trapezoid in order to learn to draw a circle? NO!  ’nuff said.

Clock time4 Lastly, and most importantly. 

You have to be able to answer the “So what?” question.  Forget about WIIFM for now. People are going to look at your wonderful creation and say, “Okay – so now what?” your creation should have an obvious connection that question. Elegant, simple, focused, and clear.


That is the “Beauty of Simplicity”.

As has been mentioned on this site a hundred times before – Learning design, regardless of scope is all about reaching the hearts and minds of others. Simplicity shows empathy, it shows you care about them and their time investment, so let’s not waste this opportunity. This is what builds relationships and connectivity between L&D and the organization.


So remember, within simplicity, there is a story dying to get out.

Share your story. What have you created or changed within L&D to make learning simple?

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Deloitte Human Capital Trends Switzerland 2014

Commissioned Harris Interactive Survey, 2014 (Grovo) based on average 50K salary, 21% of time wasted due to inadequate digital skills (IDC)

The Association for Talent Development, Learning Circuits Archives “Time-to-Develop-One-Hour-of-Training” 2009, K. Kapp

Brinkerhoff, R. O., Apking, A. M; “High impact learning: Strategies for leveraging business results from training” 2001

Grovo White Paper – Bited Sized Learning

Picture Resources via Pixabay

Man with pickles: Ryan McGuire

Yum, Cake! Gestenyes

Laughing Dog: Mike Foster

Green Snake: Foto-Rabe

Bridge: Unsplash

Shannon Tipton

Shannon Tipton

As Owner of Learning Rebels, Shannon Tipton is a skilled learning strategist, content developer and International speaker. Shannon has over 20 years of leadership experience developing successful learning strategies and infrastructures for training departments within organizations in North America, Europe and Korea.

Shannon works with people and organizations to develop learning solutions that brings actual business results. Recognized as bringing real-world expertise into the learning field, Shannon integrates technologies and social learning tools to strengthen workplace alignment, enhance collaboration and increase learning connectivity.

As author of “Disruptive Learning” Shannon frequently speaking at conferences across North America and Europe and ranks as one of the top 100 L&D influencers on Twitter (@stipton).

3 thoughts on “Simplicity in Learning”

  1. This is brilliant. I really like the call to basics here, it is just what is needed in the increasingly bloated field we work in. Keep up the good work!

    • Dave – Thank you for the kind words! I couldn’t agree more and bloated is a supremely accurate term. Give people resources they need, when they need it (easily accessible), and when the business needs them to have it. I realize it’s a simple concept and difficult to execute correctly, but we need to try harder at making it happen.


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