What’s a Three-Week Learning Block?

What’s the Difference?

In South Africa the university semesters run in much the same manner as those in Finland, where you choose your set of semester modules; and complete them all simultaneously over the course of the semester period. At the University of Freiburg, this is not the case. Here we do modules that run for 3-weeks each, and during that time you do only that one module. This allows you to focus all your attention on only one topic at a time, as opposed to switching your attention between various topics throughout the day or week.

It’s New, but it Works

At first I was confused about this method of teaching, because I was not used to it, and in general I have only come across the “usual” method of teaching in my academic career. Once I got to Freiburg im Breisgau and started my studies, I realised very quickly that this way really works for me! Throughout my studies, I have found it somewhat challenging to flick between several modules, and would consequently have to make a break between doing the work of different modules in any given day, and I did not realise there is an alternative. Now, instead of having to flick my attention between subjects, and in that way lose time, I can focus on one particular subject and give it all my attention. This allows more in-depth attention into the subject, which can lead to more mindful learning and broader understanding. 

Microlearning

The concept of learning in shorter bursts over time is one that has come about in recent years especially. There seems to be a trend of people leaning towards learning that goes with having shorter attention spans, as opposed to the type of learning we did the past – which relied on periods of 40-60 minutes of focused concentration. Some say this is due to the exponential increase in technology over the last years, and along with it, increased usage of social media platforms. These platforms are thought to influence in us users a predisposed capacity for short bursts of attention, by providing constant and consistently short bursts of media to consume – with endless (and somewhat mindless) scrolling. Thus, the attention span of the newer generations are supposedly much shorter than that of, say, the “Baby Boomer” generation. Be this as it may, the structure of academic courses have not been drastically altered to cater for this subtle change in generational attentiveness. According to various resources, shorter spurts of learning are more efficient in the retention of new knowledge (https://blog.gutenberg-technology.com/en/microlearning-how-short-bursts-of-learning-enable-knowledge-retention) For this reason, the three-week learning blocks in the University of Freiburg make a lot of sense, and this method is arguably better catered to the evolution of attention spans over successive generations. 

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