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Minimum Effective Dose of Learning

When it comes to business, the more time workers spend working—the better!

As those of us working in corporate training are often reminded, training temporarily takes employees away from their either profit-generating or profit-supporting jobs. Making employees more effective or less risk-prone when they return is the promise we make to offset their small absence to go attend a class.

Perhaps you’ve had the pleasure of “discussing” this opportunity with a Sales Supervisor who manages employees that happen to be enrolled for mandatory training near, say, the end of the quarter (i.e. their highest volume period at the end of their quota)? Yeah, that’s always fun. Negotiation ensues.

How much training do they really need to take?

What’s the minimum they can do for now to meet that requirement?

Turns out these are great things to ask, actually. And not just for required training, for all learning interventions. What is the absolute minimum of content/development/quality/etc. that meets our stated learning objectives?

After meeting the stated objectives, we could do more—but why?

Yes, sometimes there are very good reasons to do more, but if you don’t know what they are…then they are probably not very good reasons at all. Giving more than the minimum effective dose doesn’t make training more effective after all, it just takes more energy and has more costs.

The Water Analogy

If you apply 212 degrees Fahrenheit of heat to water at about sea level, it will boil. Water boiled at more than 212F is not any more boiled. No gains are made from heating the water further, it just took more energy away to do it.

The Medication Analogy

All medicine has side effects. The line of reasoning that says, “a little is good so more must be better” can quickly get you killed. Instead, we want to take enough of the medicine to help, but not so much that the unwanted effects are bothersome or damaging or overly expensive.

How much medicine to prescribe? How much energy to expend?

  • Could it be that a 20-second video recorded over Skype is enough to get the message across without distracting from its impact?
  • Might an animated GIF show someone all the processes that they need to know?
  • How about just writing a well-crafted email with a read receipt instead of a 3-page PDF attachment?

Now I’ve worked on some very high-profile and high-budget training projects when investing top-notch production was entirely appropriate and worked wonders. But this is rare. In my experience, the answer to each of the above questions is most often “Yes, that’ll due just fine. Thank you!”

The Minimum Effective Dose of Learning is likely different in every organization and for every situation. But it’s always worth figuring out first.

Thanks to Tim Ferriss for inspiring this article. Check out his book The Four-Hour Chef for more on this concept, and his thoughts on “meta-learning”.

Byline:

Sam Rogers is President of Snap Synapse, which creates more effective, efficient, and engaging ways to deliver learning for global clients. Sam speaks frequently at L&D conferences, and was recently declared one of the “Top 5 Value Tweeters” on Twitter. @SnapSynapse http://SnapSynapse.com/