Chunking Information to Design eLearning

This blog post covers a recent online conversation I had with an attendee at one of our eLearning Design Essentials workshop about chunking down alot of information to build eLearning. I thought it might be useful to share our conversation with some of you.

How do I convert a large training manual into a short eLearning module?

One of the ways we achieve this is through ‘chunking’. Chunking refers to the strategy of breaking down information into bite-sized pieces so that human brain can easily digest the new information.

What exactly is ‘chunking’?

I always like share this explanation:

“George A. Miller first coined the term ‘chunking’ in his 1956 paper, The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on our Capacity for Processing Information.  Here, he presented evidence that our working memory is limited in capacity and can only hold seven (plus or minus two) chunks of information at once.  This poses problems for instructional designers as they devise ways of explaining complex content while the learner must hold several factors in mind in order to understand the final picture.  This is where chunking plays a role.  Chunking is a useful way of overcoming these limitations by helping the learner memorize something complex, such as a 14-digit number, a list of letters, syllables or a course’s content.  Since smaller ‘chunks’ of information are easier to retain and recall, this strategy of ingesting information helps to almost double the capacity of the short-term memory.  For example, if you had to absorb a list of 11 numbers in your short-term memory you would likely have a difficult time.  However, by grouping the numbers together in chunks, the once arduous task will seem easier.  Imagine the following 11 digits: 18645557141.  You can break these numbers into chunks, such as: 1-864-555-7141. You will quickly create a mnemonic for these numbers as a long distance number.  When it is represented as such it becomes easier to remember.”

Training Folks Blog

How does the ‘chunking’ process work?

Step 1

Start by defining your training goal and then specifying your learning objectives. Throughout the development stages, this will help you confirm what’s the ‘need to know’ information versus the ‘nice to know information’.

Step 2

Next, think about breaking down content into modules, topics and then screens. This will help you get a rough overview of how long the module will be. Some people like to plan this out on a spreadsheet or some type of planning document.

Step 3

Before you begin the build, review this with your Subject Matter Experts/other stakeholders to confirm that you haven’t left out any important sections. This also allows you to look at any areas that you can cull as well.

The most important thing is to make sure all the ‘need to know’ information stands out for your learner. The ‘nice to know’ information can then be included as links to further reading etc.