What can you learn in 6.5 seconds? Vines for learning

By John Helmer February 20, 2015


I’ll admit I was sceptical. Can you really learn anything useful in just six and a half seconds? But after only a few minutes talking to Steve George, learning solutions consultant at Lumesse, I was sold.

So here’s a quick practical guide to how you can use short-form video like vines for learning.

What’s a vine?

Let’s back up a bit. For those without teenage kids, Vine, now owned by Twitter (other platforms are available), is a social media platform where tweens and teens share short videos, or ‘vines’, shot on their smartphones. Like YouTube with its vloggers, Vine also has its globally famous superstars, known as ‘viners’, who have followers in the millions and are unknown to anybody over twenty-five.

Given which, how can this be a serious tool for adult learning? Well, vines are incredibly easy to produce and distribute for a start. All you need to make one is the app installed on your phone, and they can be launched from a tweet, or embedded in a blog or a web page (even I can do it). And the fact that they loop means that you can watch them over and over again without rewinding, until you’ve got the point. It’s free and accessible, low-risk technology that gets a point home quickly and with impact.

So, to return to our original question, what can you actually learn in 6.5 seconds? Steve?’

What vines can teach us

‘If it’s a skill that takes under 6.5 seconds to perform, then you can learn it with a vine.’ This would cover a multitude of small procedural tasks in, say, systems training, but less obviously perhaps holds true in more abstract areas such as interviewing skills: the difference between an ‘open’ and a ‘closed’ question, for instance, could easily be got across in 6.5 seconds.

Vines can telescope time, too with jump-cut editing – so skills that take longer than 6.5 seconds, such as tieing a windsor knot, for instance (see the vine below) can be condensed into the time limit.

Given that many procedural skills break down into a series of discrete mini-skills, the scope for using short-form video for learning is therefore huge – but with a couple of important constraints.

Nudges not courses

A vine is most useful as a learning ‘nudge’, or a refresher, or for performance support. In theory you could break down an entire course into such nuggets, but it wouldn’t be a good experience. It would feel too fragmented and jerky – it would lack flow.

Just-in-time learning like this works best in an on-demand context – or as stand-alones, when a particular point needs to be pushed to the learner.

Underpinning knowledge

Perhaps the biggest constraint on vines as a learning tool, however, is the same thing that gives them their impact – brevity. In 6.5 seconds there isn’t any time for backstory, so getting a learning point across in this format can require a lot in terms of pre-existing knowledge.

All our knowledge builds on previous knowledge. Going right back to our earliest learnings as a baby, what we know has been built up brick by brick. To learn something new, it has to hook into something we know already. This fund of past learnings is called ‘underpinning’ or fundamental knowledge – and it’s one of the reasons why training can be so time consuming: there’s often a lot of underpinning knowledge to back-fill.

If you’ve never tied any sort of tie in the normal way, for instance, you might struggle to benefit from the vine above about how to tie a Windsor knot. With the requisite pre-existing knowledge in place, however, says Steve George: ‘you really can learn things that quickly’.

Context of delivery

All of this means that the context of delivery for vines learning is really important. A fairly obvious use would be for just-in-time learning in a subject like presentation skills.

Consider this scenario. You are an infrequent public speaker who has been selected to deliver the keynote at a conference on behalf of your company. You might have taken a course some years ago on presentation skills, but in that terrifying quarter of an hour as you wait your turn to go on, the palms sweat, the mouth dries and the brain empties. In this situation, you are a highly motivated and receptive learner. What could be more welcome, more confidence-restoring than ten vines covering key points to remember when you hit the podium?

It’s not hard to imagine a lot of other work situations where short-form video could do a similarly beneficial job. And the organisation doesn’t have to supply all of these objects itself. Because vines are so easy to make there is a lot of scope for user-generated content if L&D can just provide the means of distribution – a great way for time-pressed SMEs to pass their knowledge on in the form of tips and tricks.

What’s the big idea?

But can vines cover more complex subject matter? Obviously there is a limit to what can be got across in the time available, but when it comes to the type of learning that is closely allied to comms, we have seen bodies like the Gates Foundation using vines to get across big ideas through the use of animated infographics. Take this one on vaccination.

There is a big opportunity here for, perhaps, a six-second monthly update from the CEO. Because vines can be embedded in so many types of web platforms, from e-shots to learning portals to corporate intranets, they are a really flexible way to get a concise message across.

And don’t let conciseness be a barrier. Remember that recent research by Bersin has shown that the attention spans of your learners are falling. You need powerful messages to cut through, and to quote Salman Rushdie on what he learned about writing as an advertising copywriter: ‘compression adds force’.

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