Nano Learning: Engage students and make learning stick
March 10, 2022
The human brain can only hold so much information in working memory. In lecture-driven classes, the teacher delivers content for the majority of class time – not only can this format make it challenging for students to engage with new content, it may also create a bit of a traffic jam for our working memory (a process known as cognitive load).
With so much information competing for a direct lane to long-term memory, the reality is that students are likely to forget most of what they passively receive in a lecture. Through intentional design, educators can use nano learning to maximize planning time, increase student engagement, and create content to fit learners in remote, in-person, or hybrid learning environments.
What is nano learning?
Think of nano learning as “bite-sized” learning. Different from lectures, nano learning involves condensed, “digestible” series of information, typically presented in multiple digital formats within a period shorter than ten minutes.
In lectures, the typical way of engaging with content is to hear a teacher speak, look at words on a screen, and take notes – students do not use critical thinking skills beyond recall and recognition.
Whereas lectures may focus on broader concepts and theory, nano learning presents content in smaller, engaging pieces supported by plenty of concrete examples. For instance, students watch a short video about the scientific method. The video is strategically paused at set intervals and students are prompted to answer a question related to each section. This combines the lesson and assessment in one but doing so in small doses. Because this lesson has been shrunk down into more “digestible,” focused pieces, there is more room for students to analyze, comprehend and retain the information.
Nano learning’s popularity has paralleled the recent surge of innovation in educational technology. In a time when any learner can access new information with a quick Google search, learning is no longer confined to a traditional, in-person classroom. In a 21st century classroom, students can move at their own pace, receive differentiated feedback, and learn through different combinations of auditory, visual, and kinesthetic modes.
Advantages of nano learning
The flexibility that nano learning offers is highly appealing. It can work in remote, in-person, and hybrid class environments. In addition, students can tackle new content synchronously (together) or asynchronously (on their own time).
For teachers already familiar with and used to incorporating technology in the classroom, nano learning allows them to spend less time on designing lectures and the materials that often accompany them. Educators can dedicate more time to making choices about how to support learning, provide feedback, and track growth.
Additionally, nano learning makes it easier for teachers to personalize lessons for students of varying interests and abilities. Consider a high school English Language Arts class that is focusing on how to compare a theme across two texts. Instead of assigning a whole-class novel (which typically exceeds 300 pages) and pairing it with a 2-hour documentary that focuses on a related subject, teachers can use short stories, magazine features, or op-eds and pair them with commercials, songs, or TikTok videos.
Better yet, the teacher can give students the option to choose which texts they would like to use. Choice improves student engagement, ability to make connections to previous experiences and frames of reference, and the likelihood that they will retain new learning. Additionally, the hours that would have been committed to reading and watching whole-class media are now available for collaboration, guided practice, and independent reflection.
Introducing nano learning into the classroom
Nano learning goes hand-in-hand with blended learning – by combining teacher-led chunks with digital, hands-on activities, educators grant students the flexibility to move at their own pace, and in any type of environment. A WebQuest is one example of an activity where students visit linked sites and explore the information there for a given purpose, like participating in a student-led discussion.
For example, if a class is learning about the Reconstruction Era, the WebQuest might have links embedded to speeches, images, audio recordings, and other artifacts that serve as sources of inquiry. Through exploration, students can come up with their own questions to share with a larger group.
In a flipped classroom scenario, students might engage with the module of content outside of class on their own time. When they come together with classmates (in whatever type of environment), that time can then be dedicated to student-led discussions, project collaboration, or laboratory experiments.
In a food and nutrition class, for example, students might read about proteins, carbohydrates, and fats outside of class; then, when they come to class, they might be given the task of designing a daily meal plan based on a specific ratio of nutrients.
Even traditional station teaching allows teachers to utilize nano learning. For example, teachers can present a condensed amount of content, then rotate students among the various stations, where they will engage in different tasks (e.g., categorizing, writing, sequencing, comparing/contrasting, creating, etc.).
Less is more
Nano learning works across a variety of disciplines and has the potential to significantly reduce or eliminate challenges that may be found in the everyday classroom – namely, disruptions to direct instruction, confusion related to the desired learning objective, and a lack of student engagement.
With an emphasis on less is more, nano learning makes learning more accessible for students and moves the focus of learning from recall to a deeper level of engagement, understanding and critical thinking.
LanSchool classroom management software can help teachers incorporate nano learning and increase student participation in the classroom. Contact us today for a demo or free trial.
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