Our mind is like a computer processor. Human memory involves the ability to both preserve and recover information we have learned or experienced. The study of human memory has been a subject of science and philosophy for thousands of years and has become one of the major topics of interest within cognitive psychology.
There are three separate stages of memory: sensory memory, short-term memory, and long-term memory. The approach of making efficient use of short-term memory by grouping information is called chunking. The American Psychological Association (APA) defines chunking as the process by which the brain divides larger pieces of data into smaller units (chunks), so they are easier to retain in short-term memory.
In education as well as psychology, chunking is a way to bind together pieces of information so they are easier to understand and remember. In psychology, a chunk is defined as a collection of similar units or pieces of information combined into one group. This makes it easier to recall larger groups of data, including words and numbers.
How the Chunking process works
1. Break larger amounts of information into smaller units
For example, to remember items from a list, start by forming them into groups. If you are working with a list of vocabulary words, for example, you might create small groups of words that are similar or related to one another. A shopping list might be broken down into smaller grouping based on whether the items on the list are vegetables, fruits, dairy, or grains.
2. Identify similarities or patterns
As you are creating groupings, look for ways to relate units to each other in meaningful ways. What do the items share in common? You might group items together because they are each spelled with four letters, because they start with the same letter, or because they share a similar purpose. Linking groups of items to things from your memory can also help make them more memorable. You might be more likely to remember that you need eggs, baking soda, and chocolate chips if you are to bake a cake.
The breakdown of random numbers into chunks makes the number easier to remember.
For example: if you were to remember a phone number 8605543781, you would break the number into chunks like this: 860-554-3781, which makes it easier to remember.
You might use mnemonics as a way to chunk different units of information. If you are going to the grocery store and need brinjal, eggs, nuts, and tea, you can create a word out of the first letters of each item you need: BENT. Once you remember the keyword, you will then be better able to recall the items represented by each letter of the acronym.
Chunking in Learning
Chunking is useful for more than just recalling visual or auditory information. For example, we use chunking in our motor learning every day. When we break up large tasks into shorter blocks of time, we are using the chunking method. When learning a new task, for example, driving, we typically separate the instructions into steps, and then perform each step separately, with a pause between each step. Once we have learned the task, we still tend to pause between each successive step, which qualifies as a chunk.
Even if you’re not familiar with chunking as a psychological concept, it’s probably something that you’ve put into practice for years. From memorizing phone numbers to breaking down the text into more easily readable bits, we have all used chunking in our day-to-day lives. By practicing chunking methods regularly and incorporating this technique in your study habits, you might find that you are able to remember more.