How the Cheesecake Factory trains its staff with ‘bite-sized learning’

At the Learning Solutions conference in Orlando last month, I heard many of the vendors and speakers talk about bite-sized learning. What is it? Just as its name implies, it consists of learning in small chunks, covering a limited subject scope on a topic that can absorbed quickly. After some reflection, I realized that there are many examples of bite-sized learning that we interact with every day, such as YouTube, Khan Academy, and TED talks.

Bite-sized learning doesn’t try to break down a 60 minute course into 12 five-minute segments. It is a different design. Each small bite or module deals with one aspect of learning such as a key skill, actionable chunk, or knowledge bit. According to one of the speakers at the conference, learning theory recognizes that much learning is absorbed by an individual in very small steps incorporating tiny bits of content. That accounts for the popularity of blogs, apps, Twitter, and YouTube. Such learning techniques are ideal for millennials who are supposed to have short attention span. They also love their smartphones (which are the conduits of those same learning techniques), to the point that it seems they are unable to part from those phones. In 10 years, millennials will make up 75 per cent of the workforce; this as well as (the fact noted by several speakers) that millennials have 90 seconds (or less) attention span, makes micro-learning an ideal learning technique for them.

An example of a bite size learning module is the task of figuring out how to average numbers in Excel. That module has one main goal or a single topic, and takes less than five minutes to cover. This can be done by looking up the desired answer on a smartphone, all the while trying to follow that averaging function in Excel on a separate device. The most frequently used bite-sized learning modules can be bundled together for ease of use and consumption. In Excel, these modules would be calculating averages and percentages as well as formatting cells. As the content changes, the bite dealing with that process could be readily updated.

Dan Myers, the manager of instructional design for the Cheesecake Factory, gave an excellent presentation on how they use bite-sized learning to train their waiters, cooks and bar tenders. With over 300 menu items at their restaurants, many of them pastas, one of the courses Myers demonstrated that uses bite-sized learning (he apologized for the pun) is how waiters learn what each pasta dish looks like, so the waiter picks up the right order from the kitchen. At the Cheesecake Factory, they made this part of the training process similar to a game, where four dishes were displayed on the iPad screen, and the waiter is asked to identify Cajun Jambalaya pasta. Depending on the time and correctness of the answer, the waiter may qualify for a badge to show off their achievement.

The modules or bites should be short – four minutes or less, and should get quickly to the point. It should start with an attention grabbing statement or question that makes the learner think about how this module would benefit them. Many of the modules that I saw at the conference had a video component with speakers recommending 120 words for every minute of video. The bite sized courses not only relayed factual knowledge, but given the desired knowledge to be consumed, which could range from technical nuggets to simulating more complex social skills such as how the situation of two coworkers not getting along could be handled by the learner/waiter.

I am not saying that bite-sized learning will replace all other learning tools and designs. However there is no denying that bite-sized learning has a well-deserved niche in an instructors’ tool belt.

Catherine Aczel Boivie
Catherine Aczel Boivie
Dr. Catherine Aczel Boivie is a widely respected executive with over 30 years of experience in the leadership of advancing the value of information technology as a business and education enabler. Prior executive roles includes: CEO Inventure Solutions and Senior Vice President of Information Technology/Facility Management for Vancity Credit Union; SVP of IT and Chief Information Officer at Pacific Blue Cross and Canadian Automobile Association of British Columbia. Catherine is also an experienced board member serving on several boards, including those of Commissioner for Complaints for Telecom-television Services, Canada Foundation for Innovation and MedicAlert Canada. Dr. Boivie is the founding Chair and President of the Chief Information Officers (CIO) Association of Canada that has over 400 Chief Information Officers as members across Canada. She has been publicly recognized for her contributions, including being named as one of Canada's top 100 most powerful women by the Women's Executive Network in the "Trailblazers and Trendsetters" category and the recipient of the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee medal for being a "catalyst for technology transformation".

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