Last week, we talked about the importance of being able to Create An Optimal Learning Environment Anywhere. But other than watching the occasional video, listening to a podcast, or reading an article, how should we be organizing our learning? Chunking is a powerful learning tool that helps overcome the natural limitations of your brain. Chunking goes hand-in-hand with efficiency and retention: you should be strategizing about your learning the same way you would plan a project. 

Understanding The Basics: Chunking With Numbers and Letters

Block letters on a white table

The term ‘chunking’ refers to the process of breaking down and grouping information into ‘chunks’. For example, when trying to memorize a new phone number, we tend to break the long number into smaller chunks. An 8-digit number can be broken down into 4 sets of 2-digit numbers. The number 12345678 can be broken down into 12 34 56 78. Continuing on, instead of remembering the number 12 as “one, two”, some prefer to say “twelve”. In both cases, we have broken down a longer piece of information and grouped it together. 

The same goes for committing words to memory: wording out syllables are very helpful when it comes to memorizing a word. Every word is easily broken down into phonetic sounds that can later be put together. And words themselves can be combined to create a sentence. As a child, you were unconsciously taught how to chunk. The next step to make the most out of chunking is to do it consciously.

Deeper Dive: Chunking Into Topics and Themes

Aside from reducing large pieces of information into smaller bite-sized pieces, we can chunk information into different themes. By grouping words or phrases together based on meaning, we are creating an imaginary ‘bucket’ in our head which is accessible to us any time. For example, when meeting someone new, you automatically categorize them into a ‘type’: are they your colleague? Acquaintance? Client? By giving your relationship a name, you are placing them in a certain imaginary bucket (eg. ‘Colleagues’). The same can be applied to learning something new. 

If we are trying to learn a new skill or subject, we tend to break it down into multiple steps. This is chunking. Separating larger tasks into smaller and more manageable blocks of time is also chunking. This helps organize our learning, making it more accessible in the future. But, in order for chunking to work, you need to revisit it often. Intentionally categorizing your knowledge creates new neural pathways in your brain. When we revisit our chunks and go over our learning, we are making these neural pathways stronger. This ensures higher retention of the subject matter and makes testing, another key component of learning, much easier. 

Getting Started: Make A Plan

Now that you understand the power of chunking, the question is how to integrate it into your own learning. Here are a few things to keep in mind when learning:

  1. Look for courses or learning content that is well organized. This will make chunking much easier. If the content you are learning is already divided into bite-sized parts, half the work is already done for you. You don’t need to spend time organizing ideas, and can instead personalize the information to fit into your way of thinking. 
  2. Actively think about what you are learning and categorize it into buckets. We talked about subconscious and conscious chunking. While most people chunk information subconsciously, doing so with intent to learn better will help you do exactly that. 
  3. Look for connections. Try and find a connection between ideas in a single subject or even between subjects. Even associating information with memories can help you remember them better. If you have a personal connection to an idea or person, you are more likely to remember it. This will force your brain to think harder and more creatively, allowing you to chunk your knowledge efficiently. 
  4. Keep practicing! Practice is the key to chunking effectively. Breaking your learning down into bite-sized pieces and then grouping them together is a great way to learn something new. But doing so only for one day will not result in any massive change in the way you learn. Reaping the benefits of chunking requires repetition. 

Incorporating chunking into learning looks different from person to person. There isn’t a right way to learn. Using chunking can help you learn efficiently and to increase retention rates. By practicing this technique using these steps, you might see improvements in your memory. Actively seeking to improve your learning will allow you to advance to a higher level. Take the time to strategize your own learning. 

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