Chunking mechanisms in human learning

Trends Cogn Sci. 2001 Jun 1;5(6):236-243. doi: 10.1016/s1364-6613(00)01662-4.


Pioneering work in the 1940s and 1950s suggested that the concept of 'chunking' might be important in many processes of perception, learning and cognition in humans and animals. We summarize here the major sources of evidence for chunking mechanisms, and consider how such mechanisms have been implemented in computational models of the learning process. We distinguish two forms of chunking: the first deliberate, under strategic control, and goal-oriented; the second automatic, continuous, and linked to perceptual processes. Recent work with discrimination-network computational models of long- and short-term memory (EPAM/CHREST) has produced a diverse range of applications of perceptual chunking. We focus on recent successes in verbal learning, expert memory, language acquisition and learning multiple representations, to illustrate the implementation and use of chunking mechanisms within contemporary models of human learning.