Applying chunking to elearning

Posted on Aug 18, 2014

Elearning

Implementing an elearning initiative takes, time, careful planning, and great content.

But simply having all of those elements isn't enough if your learners aren't engaged. It’s advisable to assess how well your learners are retaining information often, as if you don’t, problems can slip through the cracks.

If you find that your employees are struggling to recall or remember information from your course then it’s time to consider content chunking. This is an effective strategy and it involves chopping up content into easier to digest, bite-sized pieces. Changing the way that information is presented can make it easier to remember and engage with.

In general people struggle more with their short-term memory. This is because it has a limited capacity so instead of overloading it, chunking can be utilised. It’s a good technique to consider when designing or tweaking an elearning approach.

Chunking is not a new concept

But chunking isn't a particularly new concept. It’s been around since 1956. Psychologist George A. Miller coined the term and he felt that short-term memory could only hold about seven (plus or minus two) chunks of information.

If you want to read his research further then take a look at his Psychological Review article –The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information.

Memory seems to function best when information is presented in manageable chunks. Our short-term memory has a limited capacity, so elearning strategies should take this into consideration. Small bits of information can be learned much more readily than large bodies of text or data.

If you find that your employees are failing to retain key information or simply struggling to remember something that they should have learned then chunking may be the answer. Here’s why you should consider it in more detail.

Content chunking improves short-term memory

The reason why content chunking should be considered is because of the fallibility and limitations of our short-term memory. Interestingly though chunking can improve people’s short-term memory too.

So chunking can fulfil multiple functions and it really is a valid learning strategy. Think about phone numbers, bank cards, and National Insurance numbers – all of the numbers are grouped in smaller, bite-sized chunks. We don’t remember the whole number but pieces of it. We can put them together to create the whole, but we learned them in parts.

Effectively, it makes organisation easier and when it comes to elearning there are some simple steps that you can take. Instead of blocks of text consider breaking it up into numbered lists or just simple bullet points. Often, when people read they don’t read the content in its entirety. Instead they skim read and condense the information for speed and ease.

It’s worth optimising your content for the people who will read it. It can increase engagement and it can better the readers understanding of the information being imparted.

Optimising your content for chunking

It’s worth really considering this approach and how it can benefit your business and its employees. Short-term memory has its limitations but it can also be capitalised on pretty effectively. Understanding that short-term memory can only hold between 5 and 9 bits of information is a good place to start.

Start with a careful plan and organise it visually or on paper. Consider story boarding your approach or simply outlining it on a piece of paper. Mind mapping can be another good approach, but whatever you do you need to have clear objectives and a good plan regarding implementing them.

Keep your learners memory in mind

Remember that you’re optimising content to aid learners in their ability to retain key information. So tweak your content for them and keep the phrase “less is more” in mind. Don’t inundate your learners with information, keep it simple and to the point.

It can seem like a good idea to have plenty of information on the screen but really what it does is make learners panic. They read lots but remember very little. So the best approach is to include relevant and carefully chosen content.

Remember to include pictures and images to stimulate your learner’s memory. When online people like content with photos and it makes for a much better reading experience. Magazines and newspapers always have good quality, interesting imagery. It makes reading the articles more enjoyable and it provides a context for the information being read.

Chunking can be really simple in application. You can focus ‘just’ on the layout of your content and it can make all the difference. Avoid big blocks of text or ‘information dumps’ and instead opt for streamlined, clean, bullets and numbered lists.

Content chunking is an important step to aid your learners in remembering and recalling key information. Don’t let your well-designed elearning initiatives go to waste. Instead optimise your content for the best possible results.

To see an example of chunking in action, drop us a line on +44 (0)207 492 1977 or fill in the form.

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