Today’s adult learners are used to getting the information that they need very quickly. Even when it comes to formal learning, there’s a shift towards self-direction. Basically, people want to chose not only the content but also the time and the format.
What nobody wants when it comes to learning is cognitive overload – the situation in which there’s too much information to go through or challenges that are too difficult.
As online course creators, it’s important to keep this possibility in mind and steer as far away from it as possible by employing these strategies:
1. Chunk the content
Bite-size learning is very popular these days. If your courses can’t really function in such short modules, do your best to divide the information into smaller units. This will help learners categorize and remember the content better.
It also works very well for offering a sense of progress and accomplishment. It’s best to keep the content as targeted as possible and focus on a single key learning objective at a time.
A good way of separating the various units is with the use of stories. Placed in between more serious content, stories are a welcome breath of fresh air, and they serve the double purpose of offering a break on the one hand and increasing engagement on the other.
2. Incorporate meaningful, good quality imagery
One of the main reasons behind cognitive overload is reading and making sense of large amounts of text. Eye-catching images make the content easier to understand. The key is to have images connected to the subject as they help make a point instead of directing attention away from it.
The human brain remembers images a lot more effectively than words, so using the right ones can drive up retention rates. It’s also a good idea to pick imagery in accordance with the audience’s background, values and aesthetic expectations.
3. Lists help people remember, so make sure you include some
Listicles are among the most popular types of articles on the web today, with reasons for it. The top one is that they are a convenient way to get information.
There’s a certain entertaining element in anything that begins with “Top ten…” as our natural curiosity is enticed. It’s also easier to scroll through a numbered list and there’s also the advantage of reading out of order without getting confused.
4. Bullet points are right there with lists, so use them
Since you can’t structure your entire course as a series of numbered lists, you can employ another fun and easy information segmentation tool – bullet poins. In formatting lists this way, you are expected to only include the most relevant information.
There’s no place for complicated paragraphs on a bulleted list. By cleverly writing the relevant aspects in order, you allow the learner to go through them in an organized format.
Since consistency is also important, don’t use every bullet point format available. Pick one and stick to it.
5. Include tips and tricks in the e-learning material
Usually, scientific or technical books have so many references that they make a good chunk of the entire volume. I bet that very few people through each note.
Side notes are usually pieces of information that are not essential but might be useful. Instead of shoving all your extra information at the end of the modules, incorporate these when needed. User-friendly explanation boxes will always be a good idea.
The success of any e-learning course depends on many factors. People expect to find relevant information that will be helpful either in their personal and professional lives. They want the content to be delivered in a manner that is equally effective and fun. Both of these require avoiding cognitive overload, and the tips presented here should help you achieve just that.
Raluca Cristescu has over ten years of experience in corporate training, focused mainly on soft skills for customer service and direct sales.