Nano-Learning Tips and Best Practices for Your K-12 Classroom

Nano-learning in the classroom is a way of teaching that breaks lessons into snippets. Instead of presenting information in a lecture (even 30 minutes can seem like forever to students), the subject matter is divided into digestible bits with small activities to reinforce the ideas. Nano-learning holds the attention of students, and makes learning less overwhelming.

You don’t need complex software tools or a large technology budget to implement nano-learning into your classroom. Here are a few tips, best practices and ideas you can use to make the learning experience easier for students to manage.

Look for Games and Challenges

There’s good news for teachers who worry about finding time and resources to implement nano-learning: There are plenty of existing tools which you and your students may already be familiar with. Implementing check-in questions with Kahoot is one way to break up a lesson and engage students. If you have used this app in the past year, you’ve incorporated nano-learning in your classroom.

“We’re seeing teachers come to trainings who never expected to use technology, but now they see it have more of an impact in their classroom than they thought it would,” says Leslie Fisher, a K-12 edtech conference presenter. “Every teacher has to be a technology teacher.”

Gamification also engages students in learning. It makes covering new material more engaging and exciting — which can increase the attention spans of students who might otherwise get bored during class.

“How better to boost students’ motivation to engage with what they’re learning than to gamify the microlearning process?” asks writer, researcher and editor Kate Larson at educational supply company Demco. “Some online gamification tools will even allow you to create a virtual universe in which students can work together.”

You can make gamification a classwide activity or incorporate challenges for students to complete on their own to review the material.

Let Students Choose What They Need to Learn

Nano-learning and individualized learning go hand-in-hand. This is because nano-learning focuses on specific concepts and ideas rather than reviewing the material as a whole. Think about students preparing for a test. One student might have questions about one section while another needs to review a different part. Nano-learning allows students to focus on their own needs.

“Be sure to allow students to take control of their learning by implementing the nanolearning concepts,” says Alicia Verweij, founder of education consultancy EDGEucating. “Have them construct their knowledge using the various digital platforms mentioned above to communicate creatively and give feedback that demonstrates their learning in a variety of ways.”

This saves time in the classroom but allows students to focus on their interests. Nano-learning also teaches older students accountability as they can evaluate their knowledge gaps and work to fill them.

Tammy Lane at Eteach has a four-step process teachers can follow to implement effective nano-learning:

  1. Identify the weaknesses students have related to their learning goals.
  2. Break down the learning objective to focus on what students need to know.
  3. Present each key idea in small pellets using multimedia to explain it.
  4. Assess the development of skills and understanding.

There may be times when the entire class needs to review a difficult concept. However, there are other instances where students will each have their own challenges.

Teacher helping elementary student; nano-learning classroom concept

Provide Several Examples and Learning Options

As you get to know your students during the year, you will get to know their different learning styles. Nano-learning in the classroom taps into different ways to consume information which helps a wider variety of learners.

“Support different learning styles by approaching new concepts from multiple angles,” writes former elementary school teacher Elizabeth Mulvahill at We Are Teachers. “Show them, tell them, and let them try it for themselves. The more ways you approach learning, the more sense it will make for students.”

Providing different ways to learn also allows you to incorporate multiple examples into the learning process. You can tie abstract concepts to real-world situations or use examples that interest students and make them want to pay attention to the material more.

“No matter the subject—math, physics, reading, writing—teachers must provide specific examples or explain a solution for nano learning to be successful,” writes Digital Learning’s Sheeba Chauhan. “Students can concentrate on each step when teachers illustrate how to solve a problem, which lowers the cognitive burden.”

Remember, nano-learning doesn’t have to be digital. You can add small elements throughout each lesson plan that reinforces content and breaks down big ideas into bite-size chunks.

The blogger at Mr. Tom’s ABA Lessons provides non-digital examples you can follow for chunking activities. “Fold a worksheet paper in half to reveal only part of the activity. Maybe math questions 1-5 are on the top half and 6-10 are on the bottom half. Alternatively, you can cut the paper in half and have each student raise their hand to receive the second half of the paper when they are ready.”

Make Nano-Learning Part of the Larger Classroom Experience

Nano-learning doesn’t have to be limited to specific lesson plans or times. You can build micro-sessions throughout the day. Nano-learning can help with warm-ups to start the day or when leaving to end it.

Lisa Parmley, founder of CourseMethod, says basic Word of the Day apps are clear examples of microlearning. You can look for age-appropriate tools for vocabulary building or choose a word of the day based on your lesson plan. If you teach a variety of subjects to elementary students, the word of the day on Monday might be “photosynthesis” for a plant discussion and “treaty” on Tuesday related to a history lesson.

Child working on tablet; nano-learning classroom concept

Focus on Big-Picture Learning

Nano-learning seems like it focuses on small details, but this isn’t true. The goal of this teaching strategy is to highlight the most important takeaways that students need to remember related to the content.

“A good analogy is a cooking recipe – if we aren’t professional bakers, we might only bake one or two cakes a year, so there’s no need to hold the exact weights and measures of sugar and flour in our long-term memories,” says author and futurist Bernard Marr.

It’s more important to understand the big picture tasks (remembering to preheat the oven, sifting the flour to break it up) than to know the ingredient measurements. When we need that knowledge again, Marr says “we can simply re-learn it.”

A good classroom example of this is learning languages. It’s more effective for students to be able to have conversations through phrases and chunks rather than memorizing pages of vocabulary.

“Retrieving and using a chunk of language is much easier than retrieving several words and then using grammar to construct a sentence,” says David Weller, the Barefoot TEFL Teacher. “Especially in real-time conversation.”

Nano-learning sets students up to apply the material to lessons in the future.

Nano-Learning Isn’t Generational

A lot of people like to claim that nano-learning is needed because of the “TikTok generation” and “shrinking attention spans” but the teaching approach isn’t a crutch or an oversimplification of material. Instead, it is an engaging way to present concepts to help students retain more information.

“What do you find easier to read …. a long block of text that isn’t broken down into paragraphs or an article that includes paragraphs, headings, bullet points, and other ways to break up the information?” asks speech-language pathologist Hallie Sherman. “Looking at and focusing on a large block of text can be overwhelming to a student, especially one who struggles with reading.”

Even taking the simple step to number paragraphs can make them more digestible and break apart an overwhelming writing sample.

“A paragraph can be chunked into expressions and sentences, while a reading of several pages can be chunked into paragraphs,” says Matthew Lynch at The Edvocate. Students can read small sections of a passage and summarize the material. They can highlight unfamiliar words and use context clues to better understand what they are reading.

As an adult, this is how you would approach a block of text or a difficult concept. Nano-learning gives students tools to approach problems and solve them one step at a time.

Students giving presentation; nano-learning classroom concept

Pool Your Resources

It’s okay if you want to add nano-learning to your lesson plans but don’t have the time and resources to revamp every single section or topic. There are ways to add nano-learning without overworking yourself or going over budget.

Kavika Roy, head of information management at DataToBiz, an AI and Big Data Analytics firm, says educators have different options to access nano-learning resources. They can obtain learning and skill development modules online or create their own for specific subjects. Some teachers might work together to pool their resources and create content across a specific subject or grade level.

Also, don’t overthink your nano-learning classroom experience. Thirty-second videos can provide audio and visual instruction to your students. You can reuse them in multiple classes and years.

“Educators are able to create microlearning content with less preparation,” writes educator Anneda Nettleton at My eLearning World. “Since there are fewer things included, shorter course delivery times are feasible. A course with dozens of units can be created in only a couple of hours with the right video presentation software or other app for the medium of content you’re creating.”

However you approach nano-learning, develop a plan and stick to it. This will help you track results and see whether your efforts are worth it.

“A big mistake in microlearning is developing without a plan,” says Shannon Tipton, chief learning officer at Learning Rebels. “A strategic plan for use and management is important. You must plan for versioning, hosting and management…Microlearning might be small but it needs a plan.”

Almost any subject or grade level can benefit from nano-learning. Once you start to break down your lessons, your students will apply what they’ve learned and use smaller chunks to review materials and study for tests and exams.

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