With the increase in technology, we realize that the attention span and focus of our students is reducing! But is it true, or is it that we have become adept at filtering content and information that interests us? Hence the need to make our lessons relevant, interesting, and experiential. As teachers, we keep searching for and devising innovative learning strategies but often ignore the basic yet powerful tool-chunking. Content Chunking as a core skill for teachers now needs to take center stage.
Content chunking is the strategy of breaking up content into shorter, bite-size pieces that are more manageable and easier to remember. This is a great technique for designing successful lessons.
George A. Miller formulated the chunk concept in 1956, as he presented evidence that working memory is limited in capacity. Although Miller stated that working memory could hold seven (plus or minus two) chunks of information at once, it is now thought that the number is closer to four, maybe five bits of information. Also, cognitive researchers now know that the capacity of working memory depends on the type of information, the features of the information, and the abilities of the person under experimentation. So where does this information come into use for us educators? Based on the above information, we can derive the following meaning of the activity called chunking!
- Break content into smaller manageable pieces or “chunking”
- Organize it.
- Identify similarities and patterns
- Group information into manageable bits.
So you see, chunking is just not breaking information, data, or the flow of your lesson into smaller parts, but it also means adding meaning and logic to it so that your students can experience meaningful learning through it. Having set the premise, let’s look at some quick tips on chunking.
- Include numerous headings.
- Write useful headings.
- Make the headings into a table of contents.
- If the information is sequential, put it in that order.
- For non-sequential information, put what users need most first.
- Make a bulleted list.
- Create brief summary paragraphs for lengthy texts.
Chunking helps in processing and understanding information better. It also helps in improving recall ability. However, it does not stop there; it also helps in the transfer of skill or knowledge into real-life situations. Let’s take the simple example of learning to cook a new recipe. If you read or watch a video of the recipe, it’s usually chunked into: ingredients, pre-preparation work, the actual cooking process, post-cooking process (if any), and finally plating. And can we not use any of these steps in other recipes? Yes we can, and doesn’t it make sense to do pre-preparation steps beforehand to make our cooking simpler and avoid forgetting a few ingredients? Now, can we transfer this knowledge to content chunking? Of course we can, and instructional designers and educators throughout this planet have been using some of these strategies to make their lessons easier and more interesting.
Some common chunking strategies are:
- Chunking based on Prioritization
- Presenting important details first
- Presenting content through chronology
- Most used concepts first
- Identify and Define Key Words
- Present chunks in logical order.
- Big picture to details
- Simple concepts to complex concepts:
- Modules, lessons, and topics
- If you are presenting, then chuck by screen level.
- Chunking based on Review Strategies
- A working memory check
- Circle words or information that are unfamiliar.
- Use context clues to connect new information.
- Use the storytelling technique.
- Chunk by Creating Visuals
- Paragraph Shrinking
- Identify Significance and Connections
The list can go on and your ingenuity in content chunking can bring meaning and fun to learning. The zoom lens approach suggested by Charles Reigeluth is the best way to understand the importance of chunking. He suggests that instruction is actually made of layers and that each layer is an elaboration of the previous layer. Hence it makes sense to sequence material from simple to complex and general to specific. The seven pillars of elaboration theory or more commonly known as the zoom lens approach : Sequencing, organizing, summarizing, synthesis, analogy, cognitive strategy activators and learner control can help chunking and learning any content logical and easy!