RESOURCE: Chunking Information for Instructional Design
Chunking refers to the strategy of breaking down information into bite-sized pieces so the brain can more easily digest new information. The reason the brain needs this assistance is because working memory, which is where we manipulate information, holds a limited amount of information at one time.
Why We Chunk Content
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.
The pearl of wisdom here is that if a learner’s working memory is full, the excess information will just drop out—as in disappear. That’s a big challenge for a course designer. It means that if you are explaining something complex and the learner must hold several factors in mind to understand it, you’ll need to chunk information into bite-sized pieces.