Chunking is a learning strategy that is important to good eLearning design. It is used to optimize the effective use of short-term memory by grouping information.
Chunking is based on the premise that there is a limit to how much information our working memories can process at one time. When the amount of information presented to a learner exceeds this limit, learning cannot be efficient.
Chunking theory stems back to the work of George A. Miller in the 1950’s whose studies concluded that short-term memory has a working limit of seven (plus or minus two) pieces or chunks of information.
Breaking large amounts of information into manageable groupings makes it easier for our minds to process and retain.
A Simple Illustration
Compare the ease of recalling these 11 numbers:
to the same numbers now grouped:
Beyond separating items into manageably sized groups, meaningful associations can further enhance the ability to recall and reassemble information. Compare three forms of the same list of items:
Providing a logical association for each grouping enhances the ease of learning and recalling the listed items. Associations provide a rationale that holds the items together and enhances one’s ability to retrieve the information.
Applying Chunking to eLearning
- Prioritize at the highest level
The first level of chunking is what will be included in a single course or learning application. At this level, consider the background and needs of the audience, the learning goals, and the amount of time learners will have to devote to a learning session. Is there too much information for one course? What is essential to our course and what is not? Is the information sufficiently important and long or complex that you should you divide the information into several courses?
- Organize the Content to Lessons and Topics
Once your objectives are clear, how can you best organize the information into lessons and topics to guide the learners and support their ability to retrieve and reassemble the concepts? Do you have a logical flow?
- Consider the Learners’ Working Memory
Throughout the process of prioritizing and organizing, keep the learners’ working memory at the forefront. Can the important ideas be conveyed with fewer words, less text, or less time? Is the writing concise? Do words and visuals work together or compete for the learner’s attention? Does each element add value?
In the end, strategic chunking can enhance the effectiveness of the learning experience and reduce the cost of development.
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Nineteen years experience in the field of eLearning, with emphasis on project management and instructional design. Management responsibilities have included planning, scheduling and directing all phases of project development, from needs analysis through testing and implementation, management of instructional design teams, and client liaison for custom development initiatives. Instructional design responsibilities have included design of eLearning courseware (Bloom’s Levels 1 through 4), design and development of job aids, operations and training manuals and adjunct materials, and development of curriculum and eLearning standards.