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

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