Reading content on the Internet has changed the way people process information, and nowhere is this change more obvious than in fields where design must adapt to new technology such as in eLearning. eLearning course creators need to refine their content to suit learners’ behavior and accessibility to training. This is where chunking comes into play.
Basics First: What is Chunking?
One major mistake many eLearning designers make is providing learners with too much information at once. Instead, it is better to limit content, to avoid an overload in the working memory and enable connections with information already in the long term memory. Chunking is one way to achieve this.
Chunking works by presenting a large amount of content in small modules to make the information easier to read, process, and remember. It is a useful technique for all types of effective eLearning design but particularly in courses that cover complex concepts.
Chunking is effective because the brain is only able to consciously process a small amount of information at a time. Neuroscientists estimate that the brain receives around 40 billion pieces of information every second but only sends 40 of these pieces to the conscious mind for processing. This is necessary because the working memory, which manipulates information, can only hold a limited amount of information at any one time.
However, chunking goes far beyond simply breaking up content. This super visual presentation clearly explains why we need to chunk and how to chunk the content effectively in eLearning environments.
Besides the useful tips provided in the presentation, to create an effective eLearning design, developers need to understand the art of chunking by following these rules:
1. Set a Chunking Limit
Even if there are as many as 10 thing learners need to know, it is useless to try to fit all this information into a single screen. Most neuroscientists now agree that people can only hold three to five pieces of information in their working memory at one time — this is called a chunking limit. For an effective eLearning design, therefore, developers should set a limit of three to four main ideas per screen. The only case when eLearning developers may increase a chunking limit is when learners are already familiar with the information.
Sometimes it may be better to have even less ideas in a screen, perhaps even a single piece of information to create the maximum impact. Whenever possible, it is best to get to know learners and create an effective eLearning design around their chunking limits.
2. Chunk with Coherence
eLearning developers must chunk content relevantly, not randomly, by ensuring that each chunk contains similar ideas that focus on a specific concept or theme. One way to achieve this is by sequencing chunks into logical units; for instance, the first can be an introduction to the information, the second will pertain to background, and the last will cover related findings or implications. No chunks should include any unrelated information that could confuse learners.
This article presents some useful guidelines to organize the flow of ideas within each chunk.
3. Use the Right Formatting
eLearning designers should always avoid dull blocks of text. Instead, it is far better to split written content into bullet points or numbered lists with subheadings and plenty of white space. This makes content easier to scan, read, and comprehend. Titles, headings, and subheadings should all be meaningful and describe what each chunk of content will cover.
Take a look at this example from the TwelveSkip Blog
4. Keep Chunks Short
The best way to keep chunks short is to be concise and stick only to the most essential information. eLearning developers should try to express meaning in as few words as possible. To ensure they are reducing wordiness, designers should limit paragraphs to no more than three or four sentences spanning over two to three lines. This will avoid having too many ideas in a short space, will enable learners to digest information faster, and encourage learners to read more.
5. Use the Inverted Pyramid Method for Prioritization
The final rule of chunking is to prioritize chunks in order of importance, which is best achieved through the inverted pyramid method used in journalism. In this technique, the most important information forms the base of the pyramid, and is presented first, and the least important forms the tip, where it is presented last.
For eLearning, this means into placing essential chunks first, where learners will find the information quickly. Next comes the body of the content, in which supporting information elaborates on the key concepts in descending order of importance. Finally, the screen ends with background information that is useful but far from essential.
There are several advantages of the inverted pyramid method:
- Learners are most likely to view and remember the most important information.
- The layout facilitates efficient scanning.
- The first chunks establish a context for secondary information.
- Enables to easily eliminate "nice-to-know" information.