How is chunking memory more efficient than normal memorizing? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
How is chunking memory more efficient than normal memorizing?
The words in the question aren't being used in a truly compatible manner. Chunking refers to the organization of information. The process of encoding memories into long term memory for later recall is the same whether the information is chunked or unchunked.
Chunking is a tool for getting around the bottleneck of short-term memory. The average person can only manipulate seven pieces of information in short-term memory, at a time.
In 1956, George Miller of Harvard published a paper, in Psychological Review, titled The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information. Miller's paper resulted from a series of cognitive load experiments he and others conducted. Miller determined that people could handle between five and nine pieces of information, seven is simply the mean.
However, Miller introduced a term called "chunking". He determined that people could store more information if they were able to chunk or combine some pieces of information.
For example, let's look at an American phone number.
A modern American phone number is ten digits long. It used to be that just the last seven could be used for local calls, but nowadays most systems require all ten. The phone number I used is one from Houston, Texas. In Houston, there are three big area codes: 713, 281, and 832. If you live in Houston, after a while, each of these area codes cease to be treated as three discrete pieces of information. The area code becomes one piece of information, reducing the total sum of pieces of information. The three bits of information seven, one, and three have become a single concept 713.
The next three numbers, the prefix, can also become chunked if used a lot. These prefixes often refer to neighborhoods. And, sometimes people can treat the last four digits as two numbers. So, our ten digit number has the potential to become four pieces of information.
Chunking is one of the most fundamental ideas for a teacher to learn. A good teacher helps the students to handle a greater bandwidth of information by chunking that information. Chunking often takes advantage of existing information in our long term memory. For example, to recognize a person's face, we draw upon several stored pieces of information about that face. When asked to recall the names of people that were in a room, we aren't overloaded by all of the information because we have turned complicated faces into single pieces of information.
A related concept called cognitive loading builds upon these restrictions of our minds. Cognitive Load Theory says that the amount of information and interactions that must be processed simultaneously can either under-load or overload the finite amount of working memory. If overloaded, all elements must be processed before meaningful learning can continue. The more a person has to learn in a shorter period of time, the more difficult it is to process that information. Researchers such as Paul Chandler and John Sweller have written extensively on the implications of cognitive load theory on the format of instruction and learning.
Richard E. Mayer is an educational psychologist with more than 390 publications, including 23 books. He has developed a set of learning principles. One of those is the Segmenting Principle. That principle states that:
People learn better when a complex continuous lesson is broken into separate segments. Examples include breaking a complex figure into two or more smaller figures dealing with different parts of the original one; presenting one graphic at a time rather than putting multiple graphics in the same figure or breaking a continuous presentation into short chunks that can be paced by the learner. The learner's working memory is less likely to be overloaded with essential processing when the essential material is presented in bite-size chunks rather than as a whole continuous lesson.
Jerome Bruner is one of the founders of constructivism. His book The Process of Education led to significant experimentation and educational reform during the 1960s. Bruner's theory of instruction identifies four characteristics of effective instruction (readiness, content structure, sequencing, and reinforcement). Combined, these principles lead to the idea of the spiral curriculum. Spiral learning refers to the idea of revisiting basic ideas over and over, building upon them and elaborating to the level of full understanding and mastery.
So, putting all of that together, we can deduce that learning will likely be most efficacious when:
- It occurs in small chunks that can make it through the bottlenecks of short term memory and cognitive load and those chunks are designed to build upon each other.
- Those series of chunks build upon each other by calling into use the material learned in earlier chunks, providing both repetition and connection opportunities.
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