Picture this: you’re designing an e-learning course and you’ve gathered content from your Subject Matter Experts and completed your own research on the course topic. You’ve sifted through all your materials and sorted the “nice to know” from the “need to know.” Now you’re ready to go! You can start laying out the content in your course … except, you’re feeling a bit stuck. 

You know order and organization are key to a successful learning experience. And as an e-learning designer, you want to set your learners up for success and present content in a way that helps them focus on what they need to know. 

But how do you decide what to present first and what to present last? And how do you make sure not to overwhelm your learners with too much information at once? Let’s walk through four tried-and-true methods for organizing course content in a way that makes sense.

Alphabetically

This is a straightforward and logical way of organizing content. And since we all learn the alphabet at a very young age, it’s an intuitive and traditional system for organization. This method lets learners easily find specific information without needing to provide much direction or instruction. This works particularly well for presenting textual content such as terminology or keywords.

For example, if you work in an industry with a lot of technical jargon or acronyms, it makes perfect sense to present those industry terms to your learners—along with their definitions—in alphabetical order.

Categorically

Sometimes the best way to share content is to cluster it into shared themes. By grouping similar content together in logical categories, you’ll help learners identify related subjects or patterns. This is a particularly useful method when all the information you’re presenting shares equal importance and nothing needs to be shared in any particular order. Breaking content up into shared categories also reduces cognitive load and helps learners digest related information. And categories can be much less overwhelming than sharing all of your content at once. 

For example, say you’re creating an e-learning course that helps onboard your sales team and teaches them about all the products available in your organization. Instead of presenting all the products at once—which could be intimidating for a learner—you can break them up into categories (Electronics, Outdoor Living, Furniture, etc.) and let learners explore smaller and more manageable sections one at a time.

Order of Importance

Another effective approach for organizing content is to place items in order of importance or priority. Learners are likely more focused at the start of your course and they may lose steam (and potentially interest and attention span) as the content progresses. That’s why it’s a good idea to share your most important content early on in your course, while also communicating what concepts or information take priority over others.

For example, if you’re developing a product course for your sales team, would you present the $500 rust-proofing kit as your first product? Or would you start by showing them the $30,000 car? Probably the car, as it’s more important and leads to more revenue overall—a key consideration for a sales team.

Sequentially

When it comes to explaining a process or a task, it’s best to share the information sequentially. It makes much more sense for learners to view steps 1-2-3 in the proper order, rather than viewing them backwards or even out of order. By organizing your content sequentially, it’s easier for learners to retain the process so they can carry out the steps on their own. 

For example, say you created an e-learning course that trains salespeople on how to close a sale. It would make sense to share that process in chronological order, starting with how to approach and greet the customer, how to handle objections, and, finally, how to close. Going about this process in another order could confuse your learners and be detrimental to the learning experience.

Wrap-Up 

As you evaluate your own content, let your subject matter guide you. Sometimes your content will naturally lean toward one particular organization method over another. Other times, you may find multiple methods could work and it’s up to you to make the call.

The most important thing to consider is what your learners will need to do with the content you share. Do they need to replicate the steps in a process from memory? If so, sequential organization is the way to go! Or, maybe they need to quickly and intuitively reference the material while they interact with customers. In that case, alphabetical or categorical organization might work best.

Do you use other content organization methods in your e-learning courses? Let us know in the comments below!

And as you continue collecting and organizing content for your e-learning course, be sure to check out these helpful articles: 


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Peter Rushton
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