Chunking: Learning Technique for Better Memory and Understanding

Chunking: Learning Technique for Better Memory and Understanding

November 30, 2019 64 By Stanley Isaacs


081127882 is a hard number to remember. If you chunk the number into 081 127 882 its easier. Cutting large bits of information into smaller pieces helps us to understand. If we put small pieces back together, we can see the big picture and that helps us to remember. The process is called Chunking. This is how it works. Our short-term is fast but tiny. According to learning expert Dr. Oakley it can hold only 4 chunks of information at once. So when new inputs arrive it has two ways to pick them up. First, it can overwrite and forget what it has to make space for new information. Or it can use mental effort to move a chunk from the working memory into the long-term memory where it can be stored and remembered later. This is why its almost impossible to recall 9 digits like 081127882. There is simply not enough space. Once chunked, there is. There are several ways to chunk. You can break a larger piece into smaller bits, identify patterns or group pieces to see the larger picture. Once a chunk is created, you can use deliberate practice to move it into your long-term memory where it connects with exercising experiences. Now it can be stored for years and if regularly used, accessed without much mental effort To make this transfer more effective it helps to add context which acts like memory super glue. Great instructors always try to give you the big picture before going into detail. If you study by yourself, you can skim through your textbook first by reading chapter headlines. Learning facts without understanding the big picture is pretty useless, as we will forget what we have learned very fast. Professional piano teachers first show their students the entire song so they understand the mood. Then they ask their students to practice one measure at the time. Once the part has been learned and the neural connections in the brain has been built, then students go to the next measure. After all chunks can be played separately, they are combined until the entire piece is connected. Now the student can play the piece with less mental effort. Chunking also helps to understand complex topics, say trade between China and India. First study China: the people, the culture and the economy. Then summarize and put what you learned in your own simple language. Repeat the process for India. Then study trade itself: the mechanics, benefits and problems. Again, simplify to form an underlying idea. At the end, you might just have summarized several books onto one napkin. Try chunking next time you feel the limits of your working memory. Just like how clever restaurants chunks their menus into starters, mains, desserts, with 3-4 options each. With chunking it’s easy to compare our options and make a decision. If you like our videos and want to support our channel, visit us at patreon.com/sprouts and see if you want to donate just 1 dollar. With your support we plan to create many more minute-videos about learning and education.