Learning and Eating in Bite Size Snacks

June 02, 2015

learning snack“Bite Size” Snacks

The country as a whole has changed its most basic function – eating.  Our patterns of eating are evolving as various changes in society, work and life are creating this paradigm shift.  As noted in the Wall Street Journal article – “Forget dinner. It’s always snack time in America ” Mike Esterl


“Americans are becoming serial snackers. What started as grazing more than three decades ago has turned into willy nilly consumption patterns. The percentage of Americans who snack three or more times a day rose to 56% by 2010 according to the latest available government data. “


Educational Technology

As we change our food eating patterns into “snacks” what about our technology consumption? How many remember when you had to sit down and login at your home computer to check email and dial up to the internet? The slow and painful sound of the US Robotics 56k modem is forever etched into the minds of many who sat connected for hours. Now, only 15 years later, we rarely use our computers; almost all our functions are done on mobile devices in fragments of time. We check email, pay our bills, and text message friends – all in “bite size” amounts of time. A few seconds found while eating, while on the bus, when picking up your kids, when your date (or spouse) goes to the bathroom (shhh don’t tell!), are all examples of this shift in technology time usage.

Gamification of Snacks

An interesting observation I’ve made is while our patterns of consumption are changing the game aspect of it is increasing. They could either be simple mnemonic or physical triggers, but you see them becoming more pervasive. When recently eating out in NYC, I was not just looking at the food, but also at the calorie and fat count posted next to each item. After eating, I took the calorie count and tracked it in a fitness app to get points and awards for meeting goals I have set. At the end of the day the app also combines my food info and my activity tracked by a fitness band and lets me know how I am doing against my friends – like a game! My patterns of consumption and how I act are now being changed as gamification has entered my online and offline life.


Learning as a Snack

For the last few years I have been a big proponent of the concept of “learning snacks” in education. We continue to teach in mechanical driven factory style learning systems. How about evolving daily lives and consumption patterns by changing the way we present learning and teaching to our students into more “bite size learning”? It seems like a natural progression if the rest of life is also shifting in this pattern. If you can add the element of fun to it subtly, my belief is student adoption can proliferate and we can grab hold of their currently waning attention spans in the classroom.

Education seems to adapt and infuse new paradigm shits into its pedagogical structure last, even while its purveyors are engaging in those patterns now. It’s my hope that some forward thinking teachers will/are adopting these easily observable societal shifts and perhaps some good entrepreneurs can help along the way.

Below are some ideas I have on how to think about learning in bite size snacks and how we have thought about and implemented them at Class Compete.

Ideas for Education

  1. Time it – Learning snacks are not just food for the body but the mind as well. Instead of fighting attention span deficits, embrace them and maximize their potential when the focus is there. Get the best “bang for the buck” you can in that small time period.
  1. Define it- Look at the variables you are trying to control and create a “snack” for the amount of time possible. Do not try to over complicate or teach more than is allowable in that time period. For example, in Class Compete we knew that attention spans are declining in k-12 from 70% in lower grades to 30% in higher. We wanted to use this knowledge to find the optimal learning we could offer in that time frame to be effective for the grade group.
  1. Measure it – You cannot manage it until you can measure it. This process will require some trial and error to find the right mix. Try to find a way to measure it so you can tune the process. We found, through many trials, that we could keep an average student focus for about 2 minutes in our game. Accordingly, we had to define what we could offer in 2 minutes and optimize for that. Our initial results made us tweak our timings a bit and when we saw double digit student performance within the first few attempts we knew we got it right!





Rahul Mahna is the founder and CEO of Class Compete, a video game platform that helps relieve student’s test anxiety by teaching time, pressure and anxiety management skills in the hope of improving grades. Rahul has over 14 years of experience leading education technology-focused companies and has dedicated his career to helping teachers and students succeed.

Prior to Class Compete, he’s been a partner in three other educational learning startups. He is credited for rapidly scaling and leading each company through a successful exit. Beyond his primary business, he also serves on several boards as a business advisor on education technology services for private companies and school districts.

He holds degrees from Lehigh University, Columbia University and Northwestern University- Kellogg School of Management and is fluent in three languages. An outdoorsman at heart, he enjoys fishing and hiking having recently climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and base camp Mt Everest. His passion is sharing ideas for technology in the classroom and education teaching strategies using educational games.