Nano learning

What’s the best way to engage outdoor learners?

I suppose there are many ways, so I’m having a think about how might employees who work outdoors most of the time be aided in their learning, or even encouraged to consider getting involved with some learning when they haven’t done so for many years.

Outdoor workers will often have very short time periods in which to catch up on a minor bit of learning, essentially the same sort of time one might spend quickly looking at a text message, tweet or facebook update, before quickly moving onto something else.

The question is ‘Can very short periods of time be of any use in a learning context?’

I suppose that any form of learning is positive, so whilst it may not be ideal in many ways, this isn’t the point, because we want to identify another way, in addition to the many other types of learning , to engage often hard to reach potential learners.

I’ll consider some of the different types of learning to help put nano-learning in context; we have

  • E-learning
  • M-learning
  • Modular learning
  • Blended learning
  • Bite-sized learning
  • Micro-learning, and even
  • Nano-learning, and I’m sure more can readily be added to the list.

They are all suitable as part of any overall approach to learning, often having overlapping elements, but I want to focus on an approach that could integrate with social media allowing for rapid interaction and making this type of learning more accessible. A quick look at each in turn:

E-learning: Quite a few definitions, so in a nutshell we are looking at digital means of engaging with learning, so a broad framework in which learning can take place. Nano learning will fit into this digital framework. Check out Defining E-Learning‘ for 4 different definitions.

M-learning: (Mobile learning) A more flexible widely accessible means to learning, which can increase the opportunity for greater learner participation by making learning experiences accessible by smart phones. This is probably (along with mobile touch screen tablets) the medium in which nano learning would take place, although desktops are just ask suitable but not as flexible as mobile technology in where one can learn.

Context aware learning is at the cutting edge of mobile learning (see ‘Traxler, J. & Kukulska-Hulme, A. (Eds) (2016) ‘Mobile Learning. The Next Generation’), making this type of learning especially interesting and challenging for developers. See also JISC ‘Mobile Learning’ (2015) for a useful guide on some issues around mobile learning.

Modular learning: The concept of splitting a large education programme into smaller modules appears quite sound, although there are challenges involved in ensuring the individual modules are clearly linked, ensuring knowledge and skills are not fragmented but are joined up. This will allow a learner to make the necessary connections between the different modules. This is probably the most common form of approach to learning today – building knowledge and skills in a structured modular way, but I suppose that is what a large study programme is anyway, with the learning outcomes and assessment criteria being considered modules and sub-modules anyway.

Nano learning is a much smaller approach than modular learning, although it would clearly form part of any larger learning aims and objectives; so it’s a sub-set of modular learning.

Advantages and limitations are present within a modular approach, however, following good practice in course design and construction can help to ensure this approach is effective, including:

  1. students being taught learning-to-learn skills prior to starting a course;
  2. adequate time for practice and reflection to aid recall of learning;
  3. contextualising knowledge to the workplace;
  4. include theory, problem-solving skills and measurable assessment;

(Ian R. Cornford (1997) Ensuring effective learning from modular courses: a cognitive’, Journal of Vocational Education & Training, 49:2, 237-251, DOI: 10.1080/13636829700200014)

Blended learning: This is a combination of digital (e-)learning and physical learning. Nano learning could therefore be an element within the digital learning context, but it isn’t blended learning. (See also ‘Blended learning’)

Bite-sized learning: OK, much smaller than modular learning and in more specific (learning outcome) chunks of the region of say 10 – 15 minutes, or so. So a further sub-set of modular learning. With the demand on employee time this appears to be a popular method. Micro learning and nano learning are arguably sub-sets of bite sized learning, but depending upon various definitions could actually be the same type of learning.

See also:

Micro-learning: These are relatively small learning activities, of say (3 – ) 5 – 10 minutes length, forming a sub-set of modular learning. If people need to learn complex concepts or skills then the very limited time for micro-learning will not be adequate to help develop the required cognition. A certain amount of focussed study and learning is needed (typically) to be able to consider and reflect on more complex issues.

Reinforcing knowledge and the understanding of  the learning is a strength of micro-learning and is ideally suited to mobile learning. However, even the relatively short length of micro-learning may still preclude regular engagement with outdoor workers.

See also:

Nano-learning: This is where it can get a bit confusing with definitions.

“Generally speaking, nano-learning is:

  • five to 15 minutes long.
  • Highly targeted; covers a single objective.
  • Self-contained; offers small nuggets of information.
  • Responsive; can be viewed on a range of devices.
  • Easy to find.
  • Multimedia; include text, video, sound, and images.”

(Source: 6 Ideas To Help You Create Nano-Learning In Under 15 Minutes)

If the time scale within this definition is accepted then nano-learning = micro-learning = bite-sized learning. However, for my thought exercise I wanted to differentiate between these three learnings to try and create a more helpful and structured concept of learnings.

Returning to the context of my question – learning for outdoor workers with very limited time periods, then I would see nano-learning as 60 seconds or less of learning. Short, sharp and to the point. So definitely useful for reinforcing knowledge, which would be through the use of

  • single statements of how, what, where etc.
  • images for weed, pest, disease identifications;
  • how to; for example, key points for pre-start checks on machinery;
  • what to look out for; for example on risk assessing a ground;

Also nano-learning could be useful for initiating opinions on industry subjects – this could be a staged process which takes the learner down a ‘decision tree’ of options as they come back to the learning.

Nano-learning would primarily be designed for smart phone use, so simple touch options most likely without text input.

The aim would be for it to be fun and engaging, but with an outcome being that the learner would progress onto more joined up learning through a modular course, which may be a blended learning one, further building into a more structured programme of study which further develops into a mind set of continuous professional development and life long learning.

All of this from 60 seconds of learning… One can but dream of how it could be.

Chris Gray, August 12, 2016

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