There are a lot of training managers and course designers who get stuck in the “bigger is better” mind-set, building exhaustive courses with infinite, minute details that swallow learners whole. Many have the perception that course size and complexity translate to course quality. Heck, I’ve even fallen for it at times. It’s hard not to get sucked in.

My goal today is to challenge this notion and help turn the tide toward building shorter courses of quality rather than tomes of quantity. Here are six reasons to embrace a less-is-more approach in your e-learning projects:

Saves Time and Money

This one should be obvious. It’s faster and cheaper to build smaller courses than traditional “full-size” courses.


Being able to get a course out quickly allows you to be more responsive to the emergent needs of your organization. A short course now is often better than a more extensive (and expensive!) course six months out.

Tap into Your Experts

As long as the content is relevant and helpful, short courses can be less “polished” than longer, more traditional e-learning courses. Plus, it’s easier to recruit SMEs to take on bite-size learning—which saves both of you time. The SME can avoid answering the same questions over and over, and you can forego the extra work and focus on other more valuable projects.

Promotes Better Learning

Shorter courses are easier for learners to digest. Studies have shown that people learn better and remember more when learning is spaced out over time. All things being equal, six 10-minute lessons are more effective for learning than a single one-hour lesson.


By breaking larger topics down into smaller chunks, learners can bypass irrelevant topics and jump directly to what they need.


Shorter courses are more flexible. For example, they work great as just-in-time performance support material, and they’re also easy to assemble as part of a larger course or as a complement to existing training material.

What do you think? Are you a fan of shorter courses, or not so much? What is your experience with these types of small projects? Please leave a comment below to share your thoughts. We’d love to hear from you!

Post by Mike Taylor

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Ashley Chiasson
Andy Houghton

I think it’s more a case of ‘horses for courses’. I’m not sure that ‘shorter courses’ promote better learning. I think in your example you break the ‘course’ down into six ‘lessons’, and it might be that you’re saying that breaking the ‘course’ down makes for better learning. My understanding is that when we review material over a period of time it helps retention. This might be a little different from breaking things down. Also, if you’re doing anything in any depth, you need a good chunk of time to get into the topic. When I was doing an online Moodle course a while back I needed to dedicate Saturday mornings to doing the course work. There was no way I could have broken this down – the stop/start would have driven me round the bend. Having said that, we produce animated vid... Expand

justine swain
Andy Houghton
Steve Flowers

Seems to me there are a few ways to look at "smaller is better" (which it isn't always) - Right-sizing the solution for the problem. It's easy to go overboard with information making the assumption that one size fits all. From an economics ( standpoint, it makes little sense to apply a $1000 solution to a .25 cent problem. - Spacing, as Andy points out above, is a great way to aid in time management and improve effectiveness of a training program. - Stepping to and stepping from. This is something I think we fail to address a lot of the time. We create a stepping stone and plop it down. But consideration isn't given to where someone is stepping to that stone from, nor where they will step after. We create an iso... Expand

Cary Glenn
David Glow
Susan Horsey