3 Considerations When Chunking eLearning Content
Don't waste another day trying to figure out what the heck to do to get your learners engaged and actually expecting them to remember everything you present them in every course. This post will cover one main concept that will lead you to successful eLearning design: "chunking information”.
Famous psychologist George A. Miller formulated the chunk concept since 1950’s, but he never would have imagined the relevance of his discoveries in the actual elearning world. This concept makes references to the act of breaking or organizing content into small pieces so that our brain can digest the new information more easily.
Nowadays, it’s extremely important to understand how your student’s brain digests the eLearning content. To sum it up for you: chunking or breaking-up content is useful for our brains since our working memory (which is where we manipulate or process information) holds a limited amount of data at the same time.
The challenge when designing an eLearning course!
If the student's working memory is overloaded with information, additional content we pass on will disappear very soon. For example, if learners have to remember a list of 11 concepts they likely won’t be able to. However, by grouping or classifying the concepts into chunks, you will definitely increase their retention level. Bottom line: breaking content into pieces makes it much easier to digest and to understand.
When talking about “chunking information”, there are different perspectives. Some may think it’s just reducing length of the training sessions, others may say its focusing only on strategic or key points, or others just believe its reducing online training time for learners. This concept its more than just cutting the length of the course; it requires effective methodologies or processes to actually work. Chunking content gives you the opportunity to guide the learner by structuring content in a progressive and logical way according to how our brain processes information.
It's time to get down to work! Here are 3 considerations when starting to “chunk” eLearning content (the right way):
Consideration #1: Rank and prioritize content
Instead of just dumping content into learners, you can guide them by structuring content into levels of importance. Always think about the content from the perspective of your audience. What should they know 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.? For example, organize information in a logical and progressive way by defining modules, then sections and finally topics. Start by separating conceptually related content in large pieces and use them as modules. Divide modules into smaller pieces, these will become your sections. Continue this process until the content divided into themes or topics. As well, prioritize the “must know” content from secondary or supporting content like exercises, examples or illustrations, etc.
Consideration #2: Organize the content on each screen appropriately
Once you have a solid course structured into modules-sections-topics, organizing the content on each screen is key. Especially, avoid introducing several topics, learning objectives or concepts all at once in a same screen. The truth is learners tend to scan content...they don’t ready 100% of what is on the screen. By chunking information you can get them to learn what it’s really important. So remember: start with basic and broad concepts and build upon them. If a screen seems to have a lot of text, strategically cut it into 2 different slides.
Some tips for organizing information at screen level:
- Organize content on the screen clearly, and in a logical flow.
- Place suitable amount of information (Short paragraphs of no more than 3 to 4 sentences is recommended)
- Use white space appropriately to increase the screen’s visual appeal.
- Preferably each paragraph should communicate a single thought or idea.
- Avoiding long and complex sentences is a must.
- The transition from one ‘chunk’ to another should be smooth.
- Use bullets and numbering to convey the main points.
- Break content into steps if possible.
- Rewrite, reorganize and synthesize your content when moving classroom based content online.
Consideration #3: Think in terms of the students working memory
Throughout the process of breaking-up and organizing content, think in terms of the students working memory. First, remember that learners DO NOT want courses loaded with text-heavy, time-consuming content. Therefore, don’t include all content that is in front of you. Ask yourself first if you really need to include all the information. If not, get rid of superfluous information.
This leads us to the second aspect to remember: convey relevant information. Don’t saturate the working memory with irrelevant and meaningless content. Our brain manages on sorting and organizing the information. Therefore, if it’s not important, or there’s too much of it, it obstructs the learning process and decreases the students retention level.
When organizing information, you can bring together active and engaging different types of resources, for example images, short videos, games, audios/podcasts and other multimedia means that can reduce working memory demands. Take advantage of these and promote the learner’s retention levels! This active learning is not only more fun but also more effective.
So what are you waiting for? Learners want quick, bite-size pieces of content to make it easier to progress through a course and to make the training experience more “manageable”. It also helps you grab learners’ attention and keep them engaged. Basically, chunking content plays an important role while creating eLearning courseware. It not only drastically reduces development costs and decreases the time it takes to deliver and implement. Start chunking information today!