Learning & Teaching Foreign Languages

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Chunking

1956

The term chunk was coined by Miller in his famous 1956 paper The Magical Number Seven

Miller distinguishes two types of memory experiments which demonstrate the limitations on our memory, or informational bottleneck:

  • absolute judgement tasks, in which subjects attempt to remember a sequence of unrelated stimuli, for example musical tones
  • immediate memory tasks, in which subjects are provided a number of series of stimuli, with pauses between series

Subjects recall more information in the second type of task.  Miller concludes that discrete pieces of information, or bits, are re-encoded into chunks, composed of a number of bits of information, during pauses in immediate memory tasks.

Activities

  1. Read and reflect: The Magical Number 7
  2. See restructuring for a similar process of re-encoding which applies to general cognitive mechanisms and language learning.

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