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Best Practices | Chunking Content into Modules


Chunking is the process of breaking down the course content into smaller, more manageable pieces. Miller’s Magical Number Seven theorizes that there is a limit to short-term memory capacity for processing information, which is seven, plus or minus 2, chunks of information at once (Miller, 1956). It is especially important for online courses where there is no teacher to guide students, that the content be organized in a consistent and functional manner through chunking. One method of doing this is through modules. Modules can vary in length and can be centered around chapters, themes, units, or specific time frames. Clear navigation with consistent layout for pages and modules are crucial for effective design of web-based instruction and a metric for exemplary online instruction (Swan, 2001; Rubric for Online Instruction, 2009).


One way of ensuring navigational consistency is to choose and maintain one structure for all of your modules. Although the presentation media and methods may be varied, the navigational structure will remain the same throughout the course. The goal of using a variety of instructional methods within a very structured format is to keep the learner engaged while providing consistency to ensure that time is not expended struggling with navigation or trying to determine what needs to be done. Here is example of a simple module structure divided into 4 to 5 parts.


Part 1: Introduction

Part 2: Instructional Content

Part 3: Activities

Part 4: Summary

Part 5: Upcoming Assignments


Part 1 includes the introduction to the unit, learning outcomes/objectives, and an explanation of how the course activities relate to the learning objectives. Part 2 includes the instructional content for the module which may vary from week to week but might include reading assignments, narrated presentations, videos, or links to resources. Part 3 will assign and explain any activities for the module, including any discussions. Part 4 will be the summary that recalls what was learned and revisits the learning outcomes/objectives for the module. Part 5, if it is needed, includes an introduction to an upcoming assignment that students may need extra time to work on.


In Practice

There are course templates created by the instructional designers at CIRT, that you can apply to your courses to achieve a consistent look and module design. Template B has been designed specifically with the layout described above.

The FastTrack series is designed to help connect technology integration and the tools of Canvas and how those are being used in everyday classrooms. This video is a 2 1/2 minute video about Chunking Content on Content Pages. Deciding what is the most important content and delivering it to students in a bite sized format is an excellent practice for both best practices of pedagogical delivery and instructional design. Keep your content short and sweet, even sneak a quick checkpoint formative assessment in!



Additional Resources

Marzano’s The Art and Science of Teaching: Helping Students Process Information




Karen Swan (2001). Virtual interaction: Design factors affecting student satisfaction and perceived learning in asynchronous online courses. Distance Education, 22:2,306-331, DOI: 10.1080/0158791010220208


Marzano, R. (2009). The Art and science of teaching: Helping students process information. Educational Leadership, 67, 86-87.


Miller, G. (1956). The magical number seven, plus or minus two: some limits on our capacity for processing information. Psychological Review, 63(2), 81-97.