chunk-new-red-line-001Our brains can remember 3-5 pieces of information at a time. We don’t necessarily remember what we learn. Yet those of us teaching adults have so much information to share. The information we want to impact is complex and multi-faceted. We want our students to understand it all.

Chunking is the process of breaking a large body of knowledge into smaller pieces that are easier to learn and remember. It starts when we spend time with our content to deeply understand it. We then answer the question: “What five things do you need to know about this topic in order to take action?” We name those “buckets.” We tell people what these buckets are. “There are five things board members need to know about nonprofit finance: Balance sheets, Income Statements, 990s, Giving, and Oversight.” Boom. A deep understanding of nonprofit finance is turned into five chunks that we can now dig into.

The chunking process continues as we take each bucket and chunk it out further. “What five things do you need to know about Balance Sheets?” The answer becomes 3-5 chunks that are bite-sized enough to make them easily digestible—or better yet, actionable. Chunking takes discipline. We need to avoid the complexities that can distract from driving home the information that really matters. Our goal is simplicity and clarity. We are shaping our content into a form that brains can remember.

If I only knew 3-5 things about this topic, what would I need to know?


Finance Unlocked for Nonprofits (FUN)” developed by Washington Nonprofits in partnership with Jacobson Jarvis PLLC and Cantadora Communications, 2014.

Ask, Report, Thank, Repeat” developed by Jim Shapiro with The Better Fundraising Company.


How Much Do People Forget” by Will Thalheimer
Chunking Information for Instructional Design,” by Connie Malamed.
MU Psychologists Demonstrate Simplicity of Working Memory,” MU News Bureau
It Can Be Smart to Dumb Things Down,” by Doug Hattaway and Jen Henrichsen



Click here or the image above for the Chunk worksheet.

Click here for a workshop planning worksheet.

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