16 - What is a Chunk

دوره: Coursera – Learning How to Learn / درس 16

Coursera – Learning How to Learn

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16 - What is a Chunk

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[SOUND] In this video, we’re going to

answer the question.

What is a chunk?

When you first look at a brand new concept

it sometimes

doesn’t make much sense, as shown by the

jumbled puzzle pieces here.

Chunking is the mental leap that helps

you unite bits of information together

through meaning.

The new logical whole makes the chunk

easier to remember, and also makes

it easier to fit the chunk into the larger

picture of what you’re learning.

Just memorizing a fact without


or context doesn’t help you understand


really going on or how the concept

fits together with other concepts you’re


Notice there are no interlocking puzzle

edges on the

puzzle piece to help you fit it to other


We talked earlier about working memory and


those four slots of working memory appear


hang out in the part of your brain

right behind your forehead known as the

prefrontal cortex.

When you’re focusing your attention on


it’s almost as if you have an octopus.

The octopus of attention that slips its


through those four slots of working memory

when necessary

to help you make connections to

information that

you might have in various parts of your


Remember, this is different from the

random connections of the diffuse mode.

Focusing your attention to connect parts

of the brain to tie

together ideas is an important part of the

focused mode of learning.

It is also often what helps get you

started in creating a chunk.

Interestingly when you’re stressed your

attentional octopus begins to

lose the ability to make some of those


This is why your brain doesn’t seem to

work right when you’re angry, stressed, or


Chunks are pieces of information,

neuroscientifically speaking,

through bound together through meaning or


You can take the letters P-O and P and

bind them

together into one conceptual easy to

remember chunk, the word pop.

[SOUND] It’s like converting a, a

cumbersome computer file into a ZIP file.

Underneath that single pop chunk is a

symphony of neurons

that have learned to sing in tune with one


The complex neural activity that ties

together our simplifying abstract chunks

of thought.

Whether those thoughts pertain to

acronyms, ideas, or concepts are

the basis of much of the science,

literature, and art.

Let’s say you want to learn how to speak


If you’re a child hanging around a Spanish

speaking household, learning Spanish is as

natural as breathing.

Your mother says, mama.

And you say, mama, right back to her.

Your neurons fire and wire together in a

shimmering mental loop cementing

the relationship in your mind between the

sound mama and your mother’s smiling face.

That scintillating neural loop is one

memory trace, which

is connected of course to many other

related memory traces.

The best programs for learning language,

such as those of

the Defense Language Institute where I

learned Russian, incorporate structured

practice that includes repetition and rote

focus mode learning of

the language along with more diffuse-like

free speech with native speakers.

The goal is to embed the basic words and

patterns so you can speak

as freely and creatively in your new

language as you do in your native


As it turns out one of the

first steps towards gaining expertise in

academic topics

is to create conceptual chunks, mental


that unite scattered bits of information

through meaning.

The concept of neural chunks also applies

to sports, music,

dance, really just about anything that

humans can get good at.

Basically, a chunk means a network of

neurons that are used to firing together

so you can think a thought or perform an

action smoothly and effectively.

Focused practice and repetition, the

creation of

strong memory traces, helps you to create


The path to expertise is built little by

little, small chunks can become larger,

and all of

the expertise serves to underpin more

creative interpretations

as you gradually become a master of the


In other words, as you’ll see later,

practice and repetition in building chunks


all you need to become a truly creative

master of the material you’re learning.

Chunking helps your brain run more


Once you chunk an idea, a concept, or an


you don’t know need to remember all the

little underlying details.

You’ve got the main idea, the chunk, and

that’s enough.

It’s like getting dressed in the morning.

You just think one simple thought like,


get dressed, but it’s amazing when you


the complex swirl of underlying activities

that take

place with that one, simple chunk of


Next, we’ll talk about how you can form a


I’m Barbara Oakley.

Thanks for learning how to learn.


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