One of the chief complaints of teachers everywhere is that their students’ attention span is declining and they have to struggle to keep them engaged because they are competing with too many distractions. We are living in a world where multitasking is a way of life and long stretches of time to dedicate to a single activity are a luxury: what if, instead of forcing ourselves to go back to a slower time and to outdated methods, we adapted our teaching and learning styles to the increased speed of the modern world?
This is where bite-sized learning comes in: let’s give a definition of what it is and, perhaps more importantly, of what it is not.
What is bite-sized learning?
Bite-sized learning – also known as Microlearning – breaks down information into small, manageable chunks instead of subjecting students to long, uninterrupted sessions, but length is only one factor of what makes it up. All bite-sized learning modules are short, between 1 and 15 minutes, but not all short modules adhere to the bite-sized format.
What makes a module (a video, a piece of text, a podcast—this method is especially applicable to online learning and can make use of all media forms) truly bite-sized is not only its short fruition time, but its simple, focussed structure that is centred on one learning objective at a time and gives students only the essentials. Learners can then make their own connections between single modules and choose to revisit them in any order they wish to see how topic A relates to topic B, instead of being presented with long, complex lectures in which the teacher makes the connections for them.
Thus, learning about a subject in bite-sized chunks keeps you more focussed and actively involved in your own learning process and should not be considered an inferior method that panders to the supposedly less intelligent student population of today: by reducing topics to bite-sized modules, we are not ‘dumbing them down’, but adapting them to our increasing understanding of the physiology of the human brain, which has always had alternating cycles of attention and distraction, even when life was slower and less busy, and even more so now that technology and social media overwhelm us with information coming from all directions.
Learn anywhere, anytime
There is a reason why bite-sized learning is increasingly popular as a form of training for employees: short modules are ideal for learning on the go, squeezing some instruction in between the pressing engagements of everyday life. If your commute lasts half an hour, for example, you cannot be expected to watch an online lesson that lasts twice that time, but you can kill time on your train ride with one or two mini-modules lasting ten minutes each and come to work prepared to face the challenges of the day ahead. Bite-sized learning, if done well, is often designed to adapt to any device so that, for instance, the learning that started on a desktop computer can continue on a mobile phone if you have to leave the house in a hurry.
Breaking down information into small nuggets can also serve as a refresher of half-forgotten concepts and skills that is easier to access than finding the exact point you need in a longer module, which is ideal if you need to solve an unforeseen problem quickly and cannot afford to waste time looking for the answer.
Another reason why bite-sized learning is taking over the world of work training is that it reduces the need for long days dedicated exclusively to instructing new employees or updating the skills of your current workforce: bite-sized learning is ultimately more economically sound for the companies themselves, as production does not need to grind to a halt for training.
This is why it might be useful to introduce bite-sized learning early in a student’s life: learning is a continuous process that does not stop after school is over, but may take a different form that fresh graduates, accustomed to long, traditional lectures, are not familiar with. If we supplement a typical school setting with examples of bite-sized learning, we are giving K-12 students a taste of what learning will probably look like in their immediate future.
What do you think about it? Have you ever tried this way of learning? Let us know your opinion by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org!