Learning in chunks

In the early 90’s, Swimming coach Terry Laughlin devised a then novel method called Total Immersion to teaching swimming. He broke down an effortless, streamlined freestyle technique into a series of drills, each of which combine to produce a smooth and flawless stroke. He then published these drills as lessons online. I have taken these lessons, and within a few months of weekend practice, I could go from swimming 50 m to save my life to swimming a kilometer without breaking a sweat.

At the heart of the Total Immersion method is chunking. Chunking is a term used in neuroscience, to describe the transformation a skill from a conscious and deliberate action to an unconscious skill. While Laughlin applied it to swimming, it can be adopted to learn any skill. It involves the following steps:

1. Break a large skill down to a set of micro-skills, to focus on one at a time. – A freestyle stroke maybe broken down into swinging the elbow around, stroking wide, the arm entering the water without a splash etc.

2. Practice the micro-skill over and over, until it becomes an unconscious action.

3. Learn all the individual micro-skills, slowly integrating them into the major skill itself.

4. Perform a major skill unconsciously by stitching together all the now unconscious micro-skills.

The technique of chunking can be used by coaches and students alike, to master a complex skill by breaking it down into its fundamental constituents.

Inspiration: Learning how to master any new skill – Total Immersion blog

5 thoughts on “Learning in chunks

  1. The first time I saw a practical example of the chunking technique was when my late uncle P used to make us eat 7-8 small portions of kichidi when we were kids when we found it surmounting to complete one plateful. We used to get an encouragement and feeling of accomplishment when we used to complete each chunk. Would be more mindful and try applying this technique in teaching as well. Good tip.

    Liked by 1 person

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