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.
- Intrigued by the idea of creating interactive job aids? Take a look at these great examples from our past E-Learning Challenge—Using Interactive Job Aids in E-Learning.
- Want to avoid overwhelming learners with content or confusing them with poorly organized content? Use these four strategies from Nicole Legault for organizing e-learning content.
- Not sure how to make your interactions more compelling? Check out these fabulous pointers from Nicole Legault.
How do you deal with content overload? We’d love to hear your ideas and field your questions in the comments below.
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