One of the most valuable things I learned in my first ever ‘Train the Trainer’ course was that I should think of myself as an iceberg. The information shared with the learners should be just about as much as they need to know, while the bulk of the expertise should be there to back it up and answer questions if they arise.
Once I moved into the instructional design realm, the visual became even more relevant because being in charge of constructing courses means gathering and distilling a lot of information and visuals before coming up with a balanced combination.
Whenever you know a lot about a certain subject (whether that’s due to extensive research on-demand or an ongoing personal passion) there’s the risk of overstuffing the learning modules.
Here’s why and how to avoid that.
Time is valuable to learners
One of the main advantages of online learning is that it can happen anywhere and anytime. Flexibility is very important for the modern-day person so they seek to learn in their spare time – a commute, a lunch break, the time they have to wait for their kids to come out of karate practice.
In order to fit into such tight schedules, modules have to be ‘edible’ in one take. Putting in too much information will not only require more time from the learner but it might prove quite a challenge for the mobile learning format. With many users choosing to run the courses on their smartphones or tablets, crowded pages can only lead to difficulties in navigation.
Keeping it short and aery will provide a much better user experience and will lead to higher information retention rates in the end.
Cognitive load is detrimental to learning
Since I’ve used a culinary analogy above, I’ll continue on that note when talking about what cognitive overload is.
We all know the feeling of having some delicious cake in the fridge. It’s normal to want the cake. If we eat one slice (maybe two) at one time, odds are it will be satisfying. If we eat the whole cake at once we are bound to get a nasty stomach ache at least.
It’s the same with learning.
A ten, fifteen-minute module at a time will be a lot more efficient in the long run than cramming hours of learning material at a time and running the risk of exhaustion and burn-out.
It’s one of those situations where the saying ‘less is more’ applies perfectly. Covering more information does not lead to the learner knowing more, rather the opposite.
Treat each topic separately
The most efficient way to cover everything that you think is relevant in a course without shoving it all together in a mix of matching subjects is to divide the content into topics. You should do this right at the beginning when you are writing the outline.
This way you can balance the material – if some of the topics are shorter you can address them combined and if some need extensive attention you can divide them into several modules.
Keep in mind that it has to be convenient for the learner so the subjects ought to be organized in a manner that makes sense and is easy to follow and remember. People naturally look for a beginning, a middle and an end in all they read or see so make use of that inclination by converting as much of what you are teaching into rounded narratives.
Punctuate content with quizzes and reviews
Even with wonderfully built micro-learning units, people may still feel the need for the occasional recap. Repetition is the mother of study so give them the opportunity to test what they remember and figure out what areas they should go over again.
Information recall is one of the most powerful tools when it comes to making lasting memories. The practice of employing tests only at the end of an extensive course does not help much when it comes to remembering all the essential items that were covered. More frequent micro quizzes give the learner the chance of checking their mental acquisitions before they move on to the next unit.
This does not mean you should forego the final test altogether but it’s much more efficient to also ask questions along the way.
Shorten your videos
There is a common misconception that since video content is so trendy and engaging, it’s a good idea to stuff it full of information and play it for the learners. It’s important to keep in mind that you are still dealing with new concepts (maybe some of them dry), not with the Avengers franchise.
There is a reason TED talks are rather limited timewise. If one is to inspire people, he or she can’t do that by boring them. Scientists calculated how long an audience can pay attention before tuning out and the range turns out to be between ten and eighteen minutes.
It’s up to you to figure out just how long your educational videos need to be as this depends on several factors – complexity, the audience, general context. However, when you come up with an acceptable minute range, try to keep it in the lower region of the scale.
Read more: 9+1 Tips for making a video for your course
No matter what your course is all about, instructional design is often more about offering a good sampler than a full-blown Thanksgiving dinner.
If you feel that you really have lots more relevant information to share after putting the essential in your course, you can do a follow-up, ask the learners to sign up for additional materials to be e-mailed to them or write blog bogs and share those.
It’s better for learners to have a basic (but solid) knowledge of a subject and know how to look for more, in-depth, information than have some clues about a lot on the matter and feel overwhelmed.
Raluca Cristescu has over ten years of experience in corporate training, focused mainly on soft skills for customer service and direct sales.