The main challenge presented to a course designer is the limited capacity of the working mind to retain information at a given time. Therefore a strategy, referred to as chunking, breaks down information into bite-sized, manageable pieces of information the brain can easily identify and digest. Chunking is essential to online learning, especially self-paced courses, as there is not an instructor to answer questions and guide the learning process. This strategy groups together conceptually related information to help the learner form meaningful connections and promote comprehension (Malamad, 2009).

An additional benefit to grouping related information is that content duplication is typically eliminated in order to create a more clear, concise and efficient course! ~ Shanna Falgoust

Chunking Methods

  1. Have a Solid Internal Structure/Outline – Use chunking while determining the organization method for content.
    1. Start with large chunks of conceptually related content (Topic or Module level).
    2. Divide large chunks into smaller related chunks (Subtopic or Lesson level).
    3. Continue this process until content is broken down into its lowest level.
    4. As you become more familiar with the content, fine tune the internal structure.
  2. Chunk at the Screen Level – Organize the content so each screen consists of one chunk of related information. As a guiding rule, avoid introducing multiple topics, learning objectives or concepts at one time. If the chunk of content requires the learner to hold more than a few things in memory at one time in order to understand it, break it down again using visuals and text in multimedia to lessen demands on the working memory.
  3. Turn Bits into Chunks – Use any strategy that turns individual bits of information into meaningful chunks. Working memory can hold four chunks or four bits of information. By grouping small bits of information into one chunk, learners can process more at one time (Malamad, 2009).

Employ simple visual design basics; use white space and fonts as organizing tools, and make use of meaningful (not decorative) images that teach (Bozarth, 2010).


Bozarth, J. (2010, August 3). Nuts and bolts: brain bandwidth – cognitive load theory and instructional design. Learning Solutions Magazine: Home. Retrieved December 1, 2010, from—cognitive-load-theory-and-instructional-design

Malamad, C. (2009, September 23). Chunking information. The eLearning Coach. Retrieved December 1, 2010, from