Bite-sized Learning: Small, Short and Focused

Author: 
Emtinan Alqurashi, Ed.D.
Image of bite-sized cereal

Have you ever wondered, “Why are my students disconnected, disengaged and unmotivated?” Did you ever painstakingly discuss material in class, only to find that the next class session no one remembered the key points? As a result, they don’t do well in class. Although there is no magic wand to make your students engaged, motivated and retain the information, there is a solution called microlearning that might help!


Microlearning is a teaching strategy that uses a series of short segments of content combined with short activities. It is also called bite-sized learning because it utilizes small, well planned, bite-sized chunks of units or activities. Research on microlearning points out its very real benefits. For example, a study by Giurgiu (2017) found that smaller chunks of content helped students to better retain information and perform better in an end-of-course test. Another study by Liu, Wei, and Gao (2016) found that students’ interest in learning and understanding the material significantly improved. Here are the three steps you can take to create a microlearning environments.


Step 1: Determine the learning goals for your class

It is the end of the class time; students are walking out of your classroom or leaving your online session. What do you hope your students have learned how to do, feel, or know by the end of the class? Learning goals may extend beyond simple content goals to others that include learning how to learn, the ability to apply concepts to other contexts and more. Two well-known taxonomies to guide instructors in creating learning goals are Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning and Fink’s Taxonomy of Significant Learning.


Step 2: Break down your content

The next element in creating a microlearning environment is breaking down the content into small bites. Microlearning is designed to avoid the cognitive overload that can happen when too much material is delivered to students all at once, and it supports Hattie and Yates’s (2014) claim that learning new material/skills distributed across  several spaced short sessions, is more effective than a single longer session in retaining information. The idea here is to introduce new information, immediately revisit it and actively use the material/concepts/skills in order to engage students, deepen understanding and move it to long-term memory.


When creating a microlearning environment, it is important to consider three main elements:


  • A single learning goal. Each microlearning unit should focus on just one specific learning goal. What is the one desired result that you want your students to achieve by the end of the unit?

  • Learning in small units. Content should be broken down into smaller units containing micro activities which can be followed by short comprehension checks or low-stakes mini quizzes.

  • Length. The total time to complete a single microlearning unit should not exceed 15 to 20 minutes. Each micro-activity typically takes the learner about 3-5 mins to complete. Designing in this way forces the instructor  to focus on the most essential must-know information.


Step 3: Create your mini class activities and assessment

In a microlearning unit, you break down your unit into a variety of micro-activities based on the content you determined in step 2. One great resource is a book titled “Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty” which discusses 50 techniques for engaging students in classroom learning. The activities are divided into different categories including critical thinking, creative thinking, problem solving, assessments, and more. Assessments here should be “for learning” not “of learning.” This means that you provide a low-stakes mini- assessment to help your students improve their learning and do better. These assessments can intersect with class activities, or not. Either way, they should be meaningful, short but challenging, and followed immediately by feedback. Feedback is important at this stage to reinforce knowledge, correct misunderstandings and thus influence future learning.


Summary

Microlearning or bite-sized learning is a teaching strategy to deliver content in small, very focused chunks. Just like food, you don’t want to stuff your stomach with a lot of food that would be hard to digest. You would eat some now and some later once you’re hungry and ready to eat again. Microlearning environments are designed using digestible content to to allow information to move to long-term memory. The goal is not just to engage students in small micro-learning activities, but to also help them to eventually retain information. So just remember, keep it small, short and focused, and those micro steps will lead to macro results!

 

 

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