Chunking is the strategy of breaking up information into shorter, bite-sized pieces that are more manageable and easier to remember. In general, a chunk is a piece or part of something larger. In cognitive psychology, a chunk is an organizational piece or unit of our memory.
Chunks are important as they break down challenging pieces of information into parts that are easier to recall from our memory. This is important as our brains can only hold a limited amount of information in our working memory.
Your brain likes to think logically and seek patterns while grouping information. This might include grouping items on your grocery list. This may also include grouping information based on whether you’d use it to bake cookies or clean out the cookies on your browser.
The Number Seven
The concept of chunking was created by the Harvard psychologist George A. Miller in 1956. Miller suggested that the number of objects an average human can hold in short-term memory is 7, plus or minus 2.
Experts since then have different opinions on the exact number of chunks a person can remember, but the main concept is what’s important. People have a limited capacity in their short-term memory.
Chunking simply means breaking the text or information down into smaller parts. This can be done by a teacher for a student, or by an individual as they learn.
The size and length of the chinks may vary depending on the skill level and ability of the learner.
Seven Steps to Make It Happen
Here are the steps I use to help successfully use the content chunking technique.
Rank and Prioritize the Information – Determine the order of importance and relationships in the information.
Start at the Highest Priority – Certain content should come at the beginning before you proceed to other areas. Start there first.
Chunks to Modules to Lessons – Begin with your chunks (a couple of months) and then break those down into modules (a couple of weeks), and then into groups of lessons (a couple of days).
Take it One Screen at a Time – Plan out and storyboard your content to make it easier for the learner to consume. An easy way to think about this is to focus on chunking content down to one screen (computer screen or slide) of information at a time.
Design for your working memory – Less is more. Focus on need to know as opposed to nice to know. If you focus on too much, you ultimately focus on nothing.
Think Visually – People often don’t read every single word and skim content instead. Visuals are a good way to lessen the demands of working memory. Bullets and numbered lists are easy ways to present your information clearly.
Do a Memory Check – Wrap up the process by thinking about the pathways the learner will follow through the content. Do you organize and prepare it to make it easier for them to consume and internalize?