chunking blocks

We’ve all heard the phrase: “Content is king.” But what happens when your learners aren’t remembering that content from your e-learning courses?

Enter content chunking—the new reigning king in e-learning. Content chunking is the strategy of breaking up content into shorter, bite-size pieces of information that are more manageable and easier to remember. Because people have a limited capacity in their short-term memory, chunking is a useful technique for designing successful e-learning courses.

Chunking has reigned for decades

Psychologist George A. Miller created the chunk concept in 1956. Miller said that short-term memory could only hold seven (plus or minus two) “chunks” of information. He explained this in his Psychological Review article, “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information.”

Miller writes, “The span of absolute judgment and the span of immediate memory impose severe limitations on the amount of information that we are able to receive, process, and remember. By organizing the stimulus input simultaneously into several dimensions and successively into a sequence of chunks, we manage to break (or at least stretch) this informational bottleneck.”

Because Miller found the working memory cutoff to be “the magical number seven,” people speculate that’s also why Bell Telephone originally standardized around the seven-digit phone number.

However, since Miller, experts have shared different opinions on the exact number of chunks that a person can remember. For example, when you recite your phone number to someone, you say it in groups of three and four: “My phone number is “555-8307.” That’s much easier to remember than “5558307” all at once.

Why glorify content chunking?

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Content chunking has been proven to improve people’s short-term memory. Here’s why it deserves your respect as king:

Content chunking takes the throne more often than you’d realize. Besides telephone numbers, content chunking is the reason credit card numbers and social security numbers are grouped into smaller sections. When children learn about United States in geography class, the states are grouped into different regions, like the Midwest, to help them remember. When you memorize a song on the radio, that song is made up of different sections: the verses, refrain, and maybe even a bridge.

It makes organization easier for you. Do you struggle with organizing your e-learning content? Try chunking information in bullets and numbered lists. People often don’t read every single word; instead, they skim content. Organizing content into lists creates a concise presentation, and your learners will still take in and remember the content even if they skim. 

Content chunking has tons of power. Chunking is so powerful that it has been shown to help people with Alzheimer’s, who experience working memory deficits. A group of researchers in the United Kingdom studied patients with mild Alzheimer’s and how they performed on working memory tasks. Their research concluded that chunking could be a beneficial therapeutic strategy to prolong working memory functioning in patients at the earliest stage of Alzheimer’s disease.

Content chunking is everywhere—because it works!

Try crowning content chunking as king in your next e-learning course, and see how it benefits your learners. For more tips on content chunking, read this blog post from Lectora, “4 Benefits (and Tips) for Content Chunking.”

Plus, find more brain research at “5 Strategies for Designing Brain-Friendly e-Learning Courses.”