Studies of how the brain works have shown that learners can absorb and retain a limited number of items or concepts at one time. When the items are meaningful and familiar to the learners, it is possible to cover 4-5 during one training segment. When the items are unfamiliar to the learner and therefore essentially “nonsense,” because they lack sufficient meaning or context, it is only possible to cover 2-3 during one training segment. Therefore, if there are ten steps in a process or twenty items on a list, it will be necessary to break them down and teach them in manageable chunks of 4-5 items if they are meaningful and 2-3 items if they are new and unfamiliar. Please note that a training segment may be anywhere from 10 minutes to several hours, depending upon the complexity of the items to be taught, the level of learning desired, and the type of learning activities used.
In Tip #14, we will look at the impact of sequence on learning and retention.