Many of us have been in this situation before: your boss hands you a new e-learning project, and gives you a 100-slide PowerPoint and tells you, “it’s all important.” But as the instructional designer, you know better. You know that, really, it’s not all important, and that, in all likelihood, a very small portion of the content is the really juicy “need-to-know” stuff. Your job, as an instructional designer, is to sift through the content and separate that need-to-know from the nice-to-know.

Let me give you an example. Let’s say you need to build a course on how to change a tire. In that course, would you include a history of cars, and information about the various types of tires? Would you explain the components of the rubber that the tires are made of? Of course not. You’re going to focus on the actual task of changing a tire. That’s all the learner “needs-to-know”. Anything else is “nice-to-know” and can actually detract from the final learning objective by overwhelming the learner with information that is unnecessary to perform the task they are learning.

Let’s look at a few Do’s and Don’ts for identifying the need-to-know info:


  • Ask questions to find out more about the importance and relevance of information
  • Identify when the information will be used on the job
  • Identify how often the information will be used on the job
  • Identify the repercussions of not knowing a piece of information
  • Identify how the information relates to the overall objective of the training
  • Look for action verbs to identify task-based information


  • Take the stakeholder’s word for it that “everything is important”
  • Ask a Subject Matter Expert, “do they need to know this?” Odds are, they’ll say yes!
  • Include “nice-to-know” content as filler or to make the course look meatier
  • Forget about your audience. Think about them, what they already know, and what they need to know, as you decide what to include in your course.
  • Forget to do a task analysis! A task analysis is critical in helping you identify task-based and performance-driven information. Need a refresher on how to performance a task analysis? Check out my recent article: How to do a Task Analysis Like a Pro.

Remember: you want to focus on task-based content and real performance improvements. Training is done to teach someone how to DO something. These are just a few of my top tips for effectively filtering through your course content to include the important stuff. Do you have any others dos and don’ts that I didn’t include? Please leave them in the comments!

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Jacqueline Hutchinson
Erica Cummins
Richard S