The Importance of Content Chunking for Effective E-Learning Development

Calendar Icon May 28, 2021
Reading Time Icon Read Time: 5 min
By Firmwater

We’ve all been there: you launch an e-learning course only to find a never-ending series of slides of text and clip art. There is no interactivity, knowledge checks, or quizzes. The included video is too long and is just a talking head.

At that moment, what emotion do you feel? Exasperation? Dread? Boredom and a complete lack of engagement?

If you don’t chunk your e-learning content, your learners will share the same feelings or worse. Getting your learners to take the time to complete training is hard enough. If you want to achieve high completion rates, you need to make it easy for your learners to engage with the content.

Content chunking is the breaking down of learning content into small, modular pieces. The importance of appropriate content chunking for effective e-learning development cannot be overstated. Here, we explain more about what content chunking is, how it increases learner engagement and boosts recall, and why you need to start chunking all of your e-learning content now.

We Don’t Learn Like We Used To

In fifteen short years, mobile technologies and social media have changed how people consume information and communicate. Our lives are constantly interrupted by beeps, screens, and global networks of “friends” vying for our attention. These interruptions are ubiquitous and have shortened human attention spans.

Today, we are less capable of processing the same amount of information than twenty years ago, particularly when online. We also suffer from attention deficiencies that didn’t exist previously. Even when people aren’t looking at their mobile devices, they often wish they were, taking their focus away from learning.

These cognitive changes have severe ramifications for e-learning. Effective online training requires dispensing with classroom-based pedagogical practices. You need to break your long-form content down into bite-sized pieces so your learners can absorb and retain information before they get distracted.

Scientists have a name for this process: “content chunking.”

Content Chunking Helps Us Learn Better

Educational psychologists define chunking as the rearrangement and reconfiguration of learning content into shorter, more memorable components to enhance student learning and retention.

In layperson English, chunking means chopping your e-learning content into short easy-to-process sections, each taking no more than five to fifteen minutes to complete. The chunked content should be designed and presented in a modular manner based on target audience, background knowledge, and topic. Chunking is scientifically proven to increase student engagement and knowledge acquisition.

At its core, content chunking requires the following:

  • Keep things as short as possible. Less is always more.
  • Highlight key points and concepts. Make important things stand out visually.
  • Vary how you present e-learning content. Use and intermix different media (e.g., written, visual, multimedia, etc.).

Five Reasons to Chunk Your E-learning Content

It turns out that people don’t just ignore, disengage from or skim poorly chunked elearning. They also tune out lectures, readings, and learning curriculums that aren’t chunked appropriately. Whether your course content is already online or you are in the process of creating new materials, the importance of content chunking for e-learning development cannot be ignored.

1. Content Chunking Is More Efficient and Increases Engagement

Chunked e-learning materials consistently outperform long-format materials in student engagement studies. Plus, they save everyone time, instructors and trainees alike.

A 2021 large-sample study in the journal, Research in Learning Technology, reconfirmed this fact. Analyzing course data from 1,268 students, researchers found that recorded lectures broken down into a series of three-to-seventeen-minute chunks outperformed the same material presented as a sixty-minute, continuous lecture recording across the board.

The chunked video lectures resulted in:

  • 54-67% more content-page visits
  • 60-67% more student views
  • 25% more students viewing the entire lecture

The study also found that increased engagement from video chunking resulted in a statistically significant correlation to higher student performance in the class.

2. Content Chunking Acts as a Checklist, Focusing Your Learners

Content chunking also helps learners focus their attention on what they are learning. They can better hold their focus over shorter periods. Chunking your content allows learners to track their progression through the material providing a visual checklist of what they’ve completed and what remains.

Chunking longer materials into easily identifiable segments with clear start and stop points (e.g., short paragraphs, section headings, etc.) encourages learners to focus through to the end of any given chunk, when they are inevitably interrupted. Chunking’s visual cues also make it easier for students to quickly determine where they left off.

3. Content Chunking Speeds Up Curriculum Development and Updating

The checklist nature of chunking allows training providers to update their materials quickly. Content updating becomes an efficient and streamlined three-step process:

  • Find the specific chunks that need to be updated (e.g., Modules 3.3-3.7).
  • Rework and reproduce the materials for the specific chunks that you identified.
  • Insert new materials into your course, seamlessly updating your training in the LMS, without having to reproduce an entire module or course.

Chunking your training course will save you time and money. When updating content, you will only need to update the corresponding chunks, not the entire module. This reduces your production and labor costs and lessens the burden when you go to test your changes.

4. Content Chunking Significantly Improves Learner Outcomes

Increased engagement and focused attention result in better cognition. Studies show that chunking increases cognitive processing and information recall.

For example, a study in the Journal of Instruction Delivery Systems found that chunking a single, sixty-minute workforce training class into three, twenty-minute classes increased adult learning. Students in the sample that received chunked content had significantly higher knowledge recall than the control group thirty days later. The differences were statistically significant, since the result of higher scores and better retention were specifically due to chunking. Also, the average student learning and retention increases were “practically significant,” i.e., the difference between the two groups’ outcomes was not minimal.

5. Content Chunking Helps Trainers Create More Engaging Assessments

Chunking also facilitates more interactive learning. Training designers will have ample opportunities to insert brief learning assessments at the end of short chunks. These might include short quizzes about recent material or critical thinking assignments, where students need to apply what they just learned. Interrupting learning with small assignments is shown to create a more engaging learning experience.

Chunking with frequent quizzing helps your learners better retain information. A 2020 study in the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition statistically demonstrated this fact among college students. Students exposed to shorter amounts of lecturing and frequent quizzing with feedback earned statistically significant higher scores on final exams at the end of the semester than students who spent more hours in classroom lectures and studying for the final exam.

Chunking Makes Your E-learning Content Better and Easier to Manage

The importance of content chunking for effective e-learning cannot be overstated. Regardless of the training program or course that you offer, both you and your learners will benefit when you chunk those e-learning offerings. The benefits for learners have already been reviewed. But what about for you, the training provider?

Chunking places lower demands on your LMS, allowing content to load faster for students. Materials that are chunked are also more accessible to trainees living in areas with slow or spotty internet bandwidth. These changes alone will enhance your learners’ experience.

Also, chunking acts as a roadmap for your students. It allows them to move through a course with an eye on what’s ahead. Learners can feel a sense of accomplishment as they proceed through numerous tasks, getting closer to the destination. Chunked content in an LMS creates the ultimate student checklist.

Finally, chunking makes it easy for you to find and update only the content that needs updating. Its modular nature allows you to experiment with flow and hierarchy. You can rearrange sections or entire modules or mash up different chunks to create new modules. Chunking gives trainers flexibility.

Firmwater’s flexible LMS provides exactly what you need to make building courses easy using chunked content.

Here at Firmwater, we don’t just sell an LMS for training providers. We partner with our clients, giving them the tools and insights they need to implement the best practices in e-learning course development, growth, and delivery. We care too much about our customers’ businesses to have them wade through forums and chatbots for help.

Ready to use an LMS that’s designed for the way YOU work, with a team dedicated to YOUR needs? Book a no-obligation consultation directly with our team today!

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