How to Design a Dynamic Online Course? Chunk it!

Have you ever considered the key components in designing a killer online course? If you’ve done a drill-down, it’s likely that you’ve found it was just the right amount of material, delivered in an easy-to-understand way.  In other words, the material was “chunked”.  Chunking elearning is designing a course in chewy, digestible bites, allowing the instructor to deliver a palatable learning experience for the student. And one of its greatest applications is in delivering professional development and skills training.

Infinity Online Learning: How to Design a Dynamic Online Course

Although it sounds new age, chunking is not a new concept.  It was uncovered in 1956 by George A. Miller, a Harvard University professor, via his breakthrough research and subsequent whitepaper, “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information”.  It detailed that learners have the capacity to juggle only limited amounts of information at one time. Over a certain amount, the student’s brain starts to leak information, causing the learning experience to erode.

Although Miller projected seven as the potential magic number of maximum idea nuggets manageable in 1956, instructional designers now believe that it’s closer to five or perhaps even four for the majority of learners.

Structurally, chunking elearning is like compartmentalizing ideas.  Like goes with like, and material tends to build from the basic to the advanced.  Additionally, superfluous information needs to be omitted, or sidelined for later use. Chunking is particularly useful in developing professional development and online learning courses.

Infinity Online Learning: How to Design a Dynamic Online Course

Here’s an example.  Let’s say that you want to design a negotiating course for real estate agents.  You’d start by identifying the three to five major skill sets (objectives) that the agent would be able to achieve upon completing the course.  Once determined, you’d pull together sub-categories of information under each objective and prioritize those.  If you uncovered myriad sub-categories, your best bet might be to exclude one or more per Miller’s “rule of seven” (or perhaps five or less as today’s instructional designers have found).  The bottom line for chunking is that “less is more”.

Once you’ve drilled down on the type and amount of bite-size material you think you’ll offer, take a 30,000-ft overview:  Will this material adequately prepare the learner to master the required skills?  Is there too much, or too little to achieve the objectives? What materials look out of place?  (Those that stick out like a sore thumb may do so for a reason—they don’t belong there!)

Why is chunking elearning so successful in skills training?  It gives the student a patient, non-overwhelming environment to develop at his own speed, mastering material bit-by-bit, until the skill set is in place.  And the good news for instructors is that’s exactly the results we hoped to achieve.

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