When learners initially immerse themselves in lengthy, 25 to 30-minute (or longer!), learning experiences, it’s unsurprising that significant chunks of the knowledge won’t “sink in”. That’s how our brain works – it absorbs only part of the information provided at first, especially if the content is new to the learner. That’s where Nano learning helps. Because it comprises of small, highly focused, chunked-down learning content, learners retain more of what they’re exposed to compared to traditional eLearning content.
Profile of a Nano “Module”
Because they are self-contained learning content (“modules”) in and by themselves, Nano learning typically embodies all the characteristics of their lengthier peers. In fact, Nano learning achieves what longer-formatted content seeks to accomplish – but in many compressed durations. The following main characteristics profile Nano learning:
- Shorter content: Unlike “traditional” eLearning modules, which may take 30+ minutes to complete, or 5 to 15-minute microlearning, Nano content lasts for between two and three minutes – tops! This allows our short-term-memory to better capture and comprehend nuggets of information
- Smaller tasks and deliverables: Nano learning is highlighted by smaller tasks and accomplishable goals. So, instead of being able to finish a complete “project” – as traditional eLearning modules aim to do – a Nano module might aim for learners to master just a small aspect of that project. Successive Nano modules then build upon each prior learning experience, delivering better learning retention and transference of knowledge to the workplace
- Illustrative content: The quickest way to teach, is to show learners “how it’s done”. Because the objective is to learn quickly, Nano content typically features lots of examples and samples
- Clear and measurable objectives: Even though Nano learning builds on multiple smaller tasks and milestones, each of those individual deliverables contains specific, measurable outcomes. Without those micro-goals, a Nano module can’t assess whether it has successfully accomplished its learning objective
To be clear, readers mustn’t construe these characteristics of Nano learning as painting a profile of “partial learning”. Quite the contrary! A single element of Nano learning is complete in every respect – it is designed to produce a specific learning outcome. In that respect then, L&D teams may strategically integrate multiple Nano modules to deliver broader learning objectives.
Real-World Application of Nano Learning
The buzzwords, like “expedited learning” and “bite-sized learning” sound good when describing Nano learning. However, how does “bite-sized” content “expedite” learning? And how do you deploy that (Nano) content in real-world learning contexts? Well, let’s use the following example to illustrate the power of Nano learning in a real-world application:
Let’s assume you are a busy IT executive, tapped to run the local branch office of one of the top Silicon Valley tech firms. You know a lot about technology…but you struggle with human resources, people management, business ethics, and other soft skills that are a must-have for successful business and people leaders. Here’s how Nano learning can help you:
- Each morning, during your commute to work, you receive a 20 to 30-second sound bite (or a YouTube video) on leading a team. The communication ends with a short – 2 to 3 question – quiz that measures your understanding of the key concepts covered in the soundbite
- During mid-day breaks, you review interactive PDFs sent daily to your inbox, containing use cases of ethical topics from global headlines that impact you: Equality, Equity, and Belonging; Greenwashing versus Going Green; Employee wellness, mental health, Quiet Quitting. The 1 to 2-minute reads typically end with just one multiple-choice question: How would you have reacted to the situation described?
- At your lunch breaks each day, you head on to a website that hosts informative infographics about relevant HR topics. Each graphic covers just one topic: i) Top-3 hiring trends; ii) 5 things to look for in good managers; iii) 4 secrets to successful delegation; iv) 5 ways to confirm a team member is ready for promotion. At the end of the 2-minute review, you are asked to identify one or two things, highlighted in the infographics, that you can immediately implement in your branch
The terms “busy”, “struggle” and “must-have” further characterize the value of Nano learning – busy employees often struggle to learn the basics of their jobs. Newly-minted business leaders might prefer to attend a more elaborate learning session – say, three-hour sessions, perhaps two or three times a week. However, in a highly competitive real-world scenario, that type of learning is a luxury few executives have at their disposal – they need to learn the basics quickly. Nano learning provides the best of several worlds:
- It targets the most important learning needs
- It ensures those needs are addressed in a compressed timeframe
- And finally, it closes the learning loop by making sure specific learning objectives are met
The three (of many such tools available to L&D professionals) Nano learning strategies highlighted earlier in this segment of the post (Sound-bites/videos, PDFs, and Infographics) illustrate how “expedited learning” and “bite-sized learning” is applicable to real-world learning needs. Most importantly, when linked together, multiple Nano lessons can accomplish a broader learning objective. For instance, as part of a broader “Branch Manager 101” eLearning initiative, our hypothetical, newly-minted Branch Manager may require to complete all modules of the Nano learning program (i to iv).
Nano Learning Use Cases
So, when does it make sense to leverage the power of Nano learning? While you shouldn’t totally replace conventional eLearning with Nano learning, the latter strategy makes sense under some circumstances:
- Because developing and launching Nano modules is (comparatively) cheaper than other learning modalities, it makes sense to use it in cash-strapped organizations
- Use Nano content when you want learners to learn the basics of something new, but you want them to learn those fundamentals fast
- Nano learning makes great application for specific business situations, such as compliance training, onboarding new employees, or introducing sales forces to the key new functionality of newly launched medical devices
- It helps bridge learning gaps within ongoing (current/existing) extended-format eLearning
- It can also serve as great “in the moment of need” learning, remediation training, and as job aids for busy workers to refer to when they need quick solutions to a pressing work-related problem
According to one estimate, employees typically are able to spend only five minutes a day dedicating themselves to learning. In today’s fast-paced, knowledge-based workspace, five minutes isn’t enough to train employees and give them the knowledge and skills they need to respond quickly to a work “situation” – well, at least not with traditional eLearning approaches. That’s where Nano learning, used in conjunction with other learning modalities, can play an outsized role.
Even though Nano Learning is a relatively new trend, it is important to understand instructional design and eLearning principles to develop high-quality, performance-oriented nano experiences.
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