Instructional design Elearning

7 minute read

Content Chunking Tips to Improve Memory Retention

Christopher Pappas

Christopher Pappas

The human mind’s capacity for processing information is limited. If you provide the information in bite-sized chunks of information, it is easier for online learners to retain it. This process is known as content chunking. When information is fed in smaller portions, online learners notice it and can memorize the takeaways more effectively. Their mental schema commits the information to memory and connects new information to pre-existing concepts. In theory, content chunking is a valuable technique that can facilitate knowledge transfer and long-term memory. So what are some content chunking tips for applying in your eLearning course design?

Content chunking strategy

There are different ways you can chunk training content. Before we dive into the advanced content chunking tips, let’s explore three different content chunking techniques Instructional designers can incorporate into their eLearning design:

1. Organizing

This content chunking method involves organizing information and the learning process in such a way that online learners start with the basics. Then move onto more challenging aspects of the topic or task. For example, if you were to learn a language, they would kick things off with nouns and then move on to other parts of speech, such as adjectives and verbs.

2. Grouping

This way of chunking content is especially useful with numbers. Rather than having a set of numbers listed one after another like 2489876789, you can group them as such: 248-987-6789, like a phone number. The human mind can remember more involved sequences or concepts when they appear in sets.

3. Patterns

Using patterns to relay information makes it easier for the online learner to recall it later. They don’t have to remember all the data, as long as it follows a particular pattern. They can focus on the core ideas and omit redundancies when processing the information.


Advanced content chunking tips

1. Content chunking can still cause learner confusion

Learning new information is tough on its own. But when the eLearning content covers two or more subjects or learning objectives at once, it can quickly go the limits of our learning capacity. This is where the element of organizing the eLearning content comes into play. Focus on one topic at a time so that online learners can process the information and then move onto the next concept. Also, bear in mind that content chunking theory is only useful if you work within the limits of human memory. For example, creating an eLearning infographic that features ten distinct sub-topics can still cause confusion. Even if the content is chunked logically and centers on the same topic. For best results, include a maximum of 5-6 chunks to improve memory retention.

2. Build it up to break down knowledge transfer barriers

It is far easier to connect all the learning dots when the eLearning content builds on their prior knowledge. Think of their mental schema as a puzzle, and it’s your job to fill in the gaps and build on what they already have. This allows them to develop a deeper understanding of the ideas and retain them for long-term use. For example, online learners are trying to master a more complex task. You can gradually build their mastery by recapping the skills they already know that tie into the process, or by showcasing some of the steps they’ve encountered when performing related tasks.

3. Align content chunking methods with online learner preferences

Content-chunking-tipsIn order to develop the proper content chunking strategy, you need to know who your online learners are. As well as where they’re at in their learning journey. You don’t want to break the information down into too small chunks, as it may do more harm than good. Or cover concepts that are too basic and diminish the value of your eLearning course for more advanced online learners. Identify the skill level and knowledge base of your online learners so that you can choose the ideal content chunking strategies and personalize the learning process. This also applies especially to how they want to receive the information. For instance, auditory online learners may prefer a podcast series, wherein each bite-sized episode covers a different facet of the topic.

4. Use visuals to make eLearning content even more memorable (and engaging)

Incorporating images and multimedia allows online learners to associate visuals with the key takeaways, and that helps online learners to improve memory retention and eLearning content comprehension. If you have a whole text passage on the screen, chances are the reader will skim through without actually gaining anything from it. Even if it is in neatly organized chunks. However, including cut-out characters or relevant images will make them take notice. You can also incorporate video clips to boost learner engagement.

5. Base your eLearning storyboards on prioritization

Content chunking doesn’t forego the need for an eLearning storyboard. In fact, it can help you create more effective outlines and boards by prioritizing the eLearning content. For example, lead off with a solid foundation of pre-existing concepts that tie into the learning objectives, such as a serious game or simulation that refreshes online learners’ memory and allows them to tap into their related skill set. Then gradually introduce the core components of the topic throughout the eLearning module. This also allows you to omit any extraneous eLearning content from the eLearning storyboard to prevent cognitive overload. As well as structure your eLearning course in such a way that the most essential ideas are explored first when online learners’ memories are still fresh.

Over to you

Use these five content chunking tips to make the learning process much more engaging and effective, regardless of what the subject matter might be. Your online learners will be able to not only identify how the new information relates to pre-existing knowledge but see how it correlates to their everyday lives. For example, teaching a new task allows them to see how the skills and knowledge they already possess can be used in different contexts. Thereby, improving productivity and building self-confidence.

Don’t get left behind – start content chunking now. 

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Christopher Pappas

Christopher Pappas

Christopher Pappas is the Founder of The eLearning Industry’s Network, which is the largest online community of professionals involved in the eLearning field. Christopher holds an MBA and an M.Ed. (Learning Design) from BGSU.