Organize Content by Chunking

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How should you organize your content? Based on cognitive information processing (CIP) research (Mayer, 2001 & 2005), it is recommended to break down information into smaller, more manageable pieces or “chunks.” The sizing of the chunks means that the effect on cognitive load will be reduced and it creates somewhat of a scaffold for the user to concentrate on performing rather than using the system (Moore, Dickson-Deane, & Liu, 2014; Van Merriënboer & Sweller, 2005).

Chunking operates on many levels. All of the following elements contribute to chunking and making text manageable: short sections, short paragraphs, short sentences, lists, tables, pictures, and examples. If the text seems dense to people, they may not even try to read it. Here are six keys to organizing logically within a page of content:

  • Break the text into manageable pieces or “chunking.”
  • Put in many headings.
  • Write useful headings.
  • Make the headings into a table of contents.
  • If the information is sequential, put it in that order.
  • For non-sequential information, put what users need most first.

Link to example artifact(s)

Dr. Camille Dickson-Deane from Montgomery County Community College developed these guidelines for designing online activities using A Simple Knowledge (ASK) System (Thompson & Thompson, 1983) as a knowledge based system that allowed users who wish to create, test, modify, extend and make use of their own knowledge base:

  1. Select a topic to design. Any topic can be used to model this system. A topic that is ill-structured/complex can be best modeled using this method. Also, you as the instructor/designer should know the topic in its entirety.

    Example of using questions to reflect learner goals
    Figure 1: Use questions to reflect learner goals
  2. Create questions that will reflect your learner/performer’s goals. This requires a change of hats whereby you will have to think of the learning/performance objectives and also the level of learner who will be pursuing the said objective. The questions should incorporate the learner you anticipate will be using your design.
  3. Create sub-questions (if need be) which will reflect the parent questions. All the sub-questions should reflect the key areas where activity is required so that the parent question can be answers/achieved. A combine number of sub-questions should answer a parent question (see Figure 1)
  4. Identify key segments of information which will help answer the questions. The segments of information should direct the learner/performer to various locations where knowledge can be sourced. This information should be chunked so that there is no information overload thus using micro-learning strategies to manage the effective acquisition and processing of the information into knowledge and/or behaviors. These segments should also use media elements (video, audio, graphics, interactive elements, etc…) to assist with the dissemination of the material (see Figures 2).
Sample of chunked content
Figure 2: Chunked Content

Link to scholarly reference(s)

Mayer, R. E. (2001). Multimedia learning. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Mayer, R. E. (2005). The Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Moore, J. L., Dickson-Deane, C., & Liu, M. (2014). Designing CMS courses from a pedagogical usability perspective. In Perspectives in Instructional Technology and Distance Education : Research on Course Management Systems in Higher Education. (p. 169). Information Age Publishing.

Thompson, B. H., & Thompson, F. B. (1983). Introducing ask, a simple knowledgeable system. In Proceedings of the first conference on Applied natural language processing (pp. 17–24). Association for Computational Linguistics.

Van Merriënboer, J. J., & Sweller, J. (2005). Cognitive load theory and complex learning: Recent developments and future directions. Educational Psychology Review, 17(2), 147–177.


Dickson-Deane, C. & Phillips, W. (2015). Organize content by chunking. In B. Chen & K. Thompson (Eds.), Teaching Online Pedagogical Repository. Orlando, FL: University of Central Florida Center for Distributed Learning.

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