Too Much Content

Sometimes creating an e-learning course is like packing for a trip: it’s easy to keep adding, adding, adding … until your e-learning “suitcase” is bursting at the seams. And guess what? Most learners go numb when slide after slide is stuffed with text and images and ideas. The volume of content overwhelms their drive to “unpack” key messages buried in all that information. And when learners can’t focus on what’s important, how will they ever apply what you’re trying to teach them?

Content overload, at both the slide level and the course level, is one of the most common e-learning mistakes. What can you do to avoid it? Here are few ideas to consider.

Avoid Making a Course

Have an SME who’s really, really insistent that every last piece of their content needs to be in the course? It may be because they’re focused on pushing information at learners, rather than coaxing out the kind of thinking that leads to behavior change.

Your job as the e-learning expert is to help SMEs see all the different ways you can structure content to focus on the learner and, ultimately, to impact their performance. Try suggesting non-course options, like:

  • Job aids: A simple quick reference or at-a-glance chart is often far more effective than a course.
  • Digital performance support: An online glossary of terms, a troubleshooting guide, or a short software simulation might be all learners need to get up to speed.

Break It Down

Numerous studies (Miller, most notably) have shown that the human brain more easily digests information when it’s provided in manageable chunks. That’s because our working memory—the place where our brains process information—can only handle so much at once.

Here are a few pointers for breaking down content in a way that makes it more manageable.

  • Prioritize content: If the learner needs to be taught information to pass a quiz at the end of the course, maintain a focus on that most crucial content.
  • Focus on the learning objectives: If the goal of the course is for learners to be able to assemble widgets, move the ancillary “ancient history of widgets” into a format that’s optional … you know, for those viewers who are really, really into widgets.
  • Avoid content overload: A simple tabs or process interaction can be a great way to organize lots of related content in a way that’s inviting for learners to explore.
  • Manage content: Break out individual lessons into mini-courses.

Make It Compelling

It’s tempting to lose sight of the goal and think of courses as content containers rather than change catalysts. Transforming your content into something that’s inspiring and actionable means you need to make it compelling. As Tom Kuhlmann points out in this classic Rapid E-Learning Blog post, you’ve got to “give the learner a reason to use the information.”

So, how do you that?

  • Use problem-solving: People learn the most from trying and failing, experimenting, and playing with the possibilities. Transform passive lectures into active learning by giving folks a problem to solve.
  • Have lots of data to share? Pull out the most important facts and support them with an eye-catching graphic. Infographics are much better at conveying information than bullets.
  • Keep your writing snappy. Ditch superlatives that distract learners and don’t add value. Swap out wordy phrases for more succinct ones. Even small changes—replacing “click the next arrow to proceed” with something snappier and more inviting, like “see what happens next,” can make your content easier to read and understand.

Ready to Streamline Your Content?

Longing for some clever ways to streamline content? Look no further than E-Learning Heroes for examples, ideas, and inspiration. Here are a few resources that you might find especially helpful.

How do you deal with content overload? We’d love to hear your ideas and field your questions in the comments below.

Enjoy this article? Follow us on Twitter and come back to E-Learning Heroes regularly for more helpful advice on everything related to e-learning.

28 Comments
Mohammad  Hassam
Trina Rimmer
Brian Seaman
Virginia Dickenson

Mr. C - I have done a hugely successful project on compliance training with OSCA out in CA , and have done two other courses with ExxonMobil L.A. refinery. Again, get those goals and objectives under control, split and organize into manageable chunks, and do tons of reinforcement games, exercises, and rich scenarios. Facilitate discussion around specific incidents. Use a picture. The success of the OSCA program was that we went into Second Life, built scenes using real photos and manga type work embedded (the VW resources, and took tons of photos which we turned into storybook videos for the class. Additionally, we made our workbook into a graphic novel - the first of it's kind! The entire course is driven by facilitated dialog and reinforcement games, integrated with storytelling. The... Expand

Mohammad  Hassam

You know this is the point we should be focusing on now. Instructional designer or e-learning expert should have following skillset: 1) People skills 2) Creative skills 3) Knows how to gather information and create a structure. 4) Good Communication skills Why? We are targeting those people who are an expert in their fields that's why they think what they said should be documented and I don't think it's wrong. However, it's better to put some cards in your sleeves before scheduling a meeting with SMEs. 1st Card: Listen everything what he or she has to say about it. 2nd Card: list down what you are looking for 3rd Card: Share your approach (Objectives of the e-learning) with them where you filter the information you think will be relevant to the course. 4th Card: Before they ... Expand

Pascal Smet
Matt Kirby
Pascal Smet
Marti  Stemm
John Nixdorf