Trainer Mistake 3 – Failure to Chunk Content

By Bill Wilder, Life Cycle Institute

Many subject matter experts and managers are asked or required to deliver training. Most have little training experience so they make mistakes. At the 2015 Association for Talent Development conference Bob Pike a widely respected learning authority, presented The 7 Greatest Mistakes Trainers Make and How to Avoid Them.

1 – No transfer strategy

2 – Too much content

3 – Failure to chunk content

4 – Poor use of evaluations

5 – Managing questions in the classroom

6 – Lack of planned and impromptu closers, openers, revisits, and energizers

7 – Not available before and after formal class

Mistake #3 is a failure to chunk content.

Most people have short attention spans. Learners can tune-in to a lecture for no more than 15 to 20 minutes at a time. Read "The Change-up in Lectures” for research findings from several studies conducted over several decades that confirm this claim.

Lecture is easier, for the teacher. So a common mistake trainers make is failing to break up the content in manageable bites. Learners need an opportunity to chew what they have bitten off before they can bite off more, without choking on information overload. They reach a saturation point, so break it up.

Brian Dwyer, in Successful training strategies for the twenty-first century, tells us that “Adults will generally pay attention for about 20 minutes before tuning out.” He further asserts that the ability to maintain attention is affected by the normal cyclical fluctuations of our neurotransmitters, and these occur every 90 minutes.

In chunking content Bob Pike tells us that we can listen with understanding for about 90 minutes, with retention for 20 minutes and actively do something every eight minutes. When delivering training, single sessions should not exceed 90 minutes without a break. During the 90 minute window deliver the content in 20-minute chunks that are followed by review periods. Finally, keep people actively engaged every eight minutes. The Bob Pike website,, is rich with resources you can use to help you avoid this common training mistake.

Bill Wilder, M.Ed is the founder and director of the Life Cycle Institute, the learning, leadership and change management practice at Life Cycle Engineering. The Institute integrates the science of learning and the science of change management to help organizations produce results through behavior change. You can reach Bill at [email protected].

© Life Cycle Engineering 

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