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Why Content Chunking? Bite the Content Before the Content Bites You

Why do we remember certain learning experiences better than the others? For instance, most of can rattle off the nursery rhymes we learned as kids, even now. I was trying to recall how my teacher taught me those rhymes, and realized that even in that simple activity of teaching a nursery rhyme, my teacher had chunked the content before presenting it to her kindergarten audience.

Fast forward to the current scenario, where I work closely with instructional designers (IDs), I thoroughly understand how big a role content chunking has to play in designing online training programs. At the beginning of an eLearning course, IDs receive a lot of raw inputs from clients that are in the form of PDFs, PPTs, or Word documents. They then get to the task of analyzing the content and picking out relevant content that is aligned to the learning objectives.

They then organize this content in a logical flow, both at the course level and at the screen level. This process is called ‘Content Chunking’. Read on to know why content chunking is a step that cannot be skipped while designing training programs.

Facilitates Retention and Recall of Information 

When learners are presented with content, they always look for concise chunks that are easily digestible and are not cluttered on their screens. Therefore, content chunking plays a crucial role. You could use images, animations, or other assets that support the content, making the screen more engaging.

 In the process of developing an eLearning course, Instructional Designers need to break long strings of information into bite-sized absorbable pieces and thus help learners retain and recall information. It is one of the techniques that helps form mind maps. Content chunks focus on one concept pertaining to a topic at one time. Chunking provides a clear context to learners. This helps learners to easily assimilate new information.

Reduces Cognitive Load

The human brain is capable of storing gazillion bytes of information, while also performing a million other tasks. Yet, if you present the brain with a string of data that is irrelevant or doesn’t make sense, the human mind cannot process the information. When humans encounter a new piece of information, our working memory allows us to hold onto it and manipulate it, but retention of the information is different.

For instance, if you were asked to memorize the steps of a software application, you may not be able to remember the steps after a few minutes. If the same process were to be given to you in a chunked manner, step by step, with images and explanation, it is easier to remember and recall.

According to experts, the human mind has the capacity to process seven +/- two pieces of information. Therefore, when content is chunked, it becomes easier for the mind to process the information. Two purposes are fulfilled, cognitive overload is reduced and, context and meaning are given to the piece of information.

Enables Knowledge Transfer 

Chunked content is the key to transferring knowledge effectively to engage learners. For instance, in a 4th grade science classroom, the teacher wanted the students to memorize the colors of the rainbow. She called out the seven colors of the rainbow and made the students repeat after her. However, they found it difficult to memorize the colors. The teacher then decided to make it easy for them by teaching them the acronym – VIBGYOR (Violet, Indigo, Blue, Green, Yellow, Orange, & Red). When the colors were chunked and made into an acronym, given a context and meaning, students could memorize easily.

 When you are aware of what the learners know, chunking content becomes easy, as you can base it on their existing knowledge, leaving out unnecessary information. Building on what the learner already knows ensures that the transfer of knowledge is effective.

Contextualizes Information to Add Value

When content is chunked, learners can put information into context and retrieve it and build on it. Learners find it difficult to make decisions when they are bombarded with information and are unable to determine which piece of information to use and which to junk.

 For instance, when you begin a new course, the information gained needs to be learned slowly and in the context you will use it. If you rush through the course, just reading the content, you might check the task off your list. But did you receive the needed knowledge or fulfill the purpose of improved performance? Well, you know the answer. This is where chunking plays an important role.

Content chunking ensures that learners are given appropriate information, at the right time, focusing on just one main idea. When learning happens in chunks, it might seem slow to you, but, that’s exactly how effective learning happens. You stand a better chance to assimilate what was learned and retain the information for a longer period.

To conclude, for any course to be effective, content chunking has to be done. Chunking effectively breaks down information into manageable chunks. Content then becomes learner-friendly, relevant, and retrievable. Effective chunking is the key to conveying knowledge effectively to engage learners.

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