Reflection Assignment #2
While reviewing methods of developing instructional strategies, I encountered again the strategy of chunking. I have known about this concept earlier and had tried my very best to provide content in chunked format. I understand that students’ short attention span demands that information is best absorbed when presented in bite size format. However, I found it very difficult to practice this as I teach world literature and the nature of the subject demands that explanations, notes, and overall content ran into long paragraphs. Honestly, I assumed that chunking would work only for technical journals, how-to manuals, and perhaps just-in-time training content that would essentially provide strictly instructional content – without any expectation of deep reflection or sustained engagement. I knew about the strategy of chunking but never felt it would work for world literature nor for any course that required critical thinking and sustained student engagement with content.
After reading Lodge’s article “The functional organization and capacity limits of working memory”, I understood that working memory actually means the process of keeping track of ongoing mental processes and temporary memory. There are two different hypothesis pertaining to working memory. The first one posits that working memory consists of multiple domain-specific components. A longitudinal study of this phenomenon reveals insights into cognitive changes from childhood to old age and selective cognitive impairments following brain damage. Another opposing theory posits that working memory consists of a single limited-capacity domain-general system for control of attention. This article argues that both hypotheses are complementary perspectives with each one answering different sets of questions, thereby shedding ample light on the concept of working memory and showing that these differences are not real.
Concepts like “visual cache” or visual short-term memory (Lodge, 2011), are contrasted with another perspective of memory seen as a range of executive functions that include “focusing and sustaining attention, task switching, updating, inhibiting, encoding, and retrieval” (Baddeley, 2007). Interesting to note in this study is the view that working memory is a system for controlling the focus of attention on “currently activated contents of episodic and semantic memory rather than as a set of distinct systems for on-line cognition and temporary storage” (Lodge, 2011). So, obviously there are specific ways in which working memory aids learning.
Having this understanding of working memory from psychological perspective aids in applying the concept from an instructional design perspective. Cennamo and Kalk (2019) define chunk as a set of topics that go together logically. “Each chunk may be a different category of knowledge (verbs, intellectual and so on) and thus require you to develop a lesson appropriate to each” (p.123). Assessments are also ideally structured around each chunk depending on the nature of the content, audience, and subject being studied. The size of the chunk also depends on the complexity of content, the learning level of the audience, and the developmental level of the learner.
One strategy I can readily use with this concept is the concept of recalling. When students master chunks, they can be sent to find evidence or corroborate using external references, so they can be sent out of the “chunked” content and thereby build knowledge. This takes us to the associated theme of how much depth to pursue in the chunk, so students can be sufficiently engaged yet not overwhelmed. Here instructional designers need to remind subject matter experts that they need to prioritize what they want their learners to remember one year from now and make sure those concepts are included in the content now. Another practical benefit to chunking is the understanding of when to provide breaks in learning. Fatigue must be avoided and students must be sufficiently challenged while not overwhelmed.
I am thrilled that I now have a better understanding of chunking as an effective instructional strategy and would use it in my course design going forward. I like the implications this strategy has on not only the presentation of content but also the assessment of outcomes.
Baddeley, A.D. (2007). Working memory, thought and action. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
Cennamo, Katherine and Kalk, Debby (2019). Real World Instructional Design. New York. Taylor and Francis.
Lodge, R. H. (2011). The functional organization and capacity limits of working memory. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 20, 240-245.