7 Ways to Organize Course Content to Make It More Memorable
If you want your course to succeed, make it memorable—in more ways than one.
As an online educator, you know that the success of your course rests in the experience of your learners. If your learners find your material confusing or hard to understand, it is unlikely their frustration will translate to good reviews. Or, if they aren’t able to use what they learned on the job, they may conclude the course wasn’t worth their investment.
Many factors impact the experience learners have with an education course. Motivation is one, ease of comprehension is another. However, one of the most universal challenges comes down to memory. The best will in the world won’t help a student who struggles to remember the material.
Unfortunately, our brains can be surprisingly efficient forgetting machines. This makes sense if you consider how much useless data we absorb during the day. Except in extremely unusual circumstances, we don’t need to remember what we had for breakfast three weeks ago, the phone number for the hotel where we stayed on vacation, or exactly how much you paid for gas at your last fill up. Unless we use that information repeatedly, our subconscious labels it superfluous and dumps it at the first opportunity.
This means that, if we want to remember information, most of us have to work to move that knowledge from short-term to long-term memory. The good news is that there are learning techniques that can help us do this, and the way we organize course content can help. Here are 7 ways you can improve your course by helping your learners remember your material.
1. Structure written content.
When you present written material, don’t just offer information in a block of text. Use text formatting options such as bold and italics to draw attention to important ideas or key terminology. Include headings to help your users orient themselves in the text, and make bulleted lists of the major takeaways from the lesson. And break up your paragraphs! If a paragraph is over 150 words, it will be harder for learners to keep their place in the material.
Text formatting provides visual cues for your learners to aid them in memory recall. It can also help them review lessons by making the context easier to scan for information, or it can help collect related information that might otherwise be scattered throughout the text into one place.
Structure also helps your learners create a mental map of the content of your lesson. For instance, offering a brief lesson outline, or providing a numbered list of items to discuss, can give your learners something to reference later when they’re trying to remember that section of your course.
2. Feature supplementary information.
Sometimes, you have an interesting story you’d like to share in your lesson, but it doesn’t quite fit. Instead of including it in the body of your text, try including it in a side bar or as an addendum. By setting it apart from the main text you help keep lessons focused and make revision easier.
Additional information might include a case study that illustrates your point, a historical note, or a thought experiment. Almost any useful information that didn’t fit into the main body can be included as a supplement.
3. Include multiple content types.
Your course will benefit from offering rich content in a variety of formats. We all love a good infographic. But almost any picture will help us remember information by giving our brains more context for what we see on a page.
It’s not just images, however. Audio and video content can also help, and it doesn’t have to be fancy. You can easily create an online lecture by recording a PowerPoint presentation, or by illustrating your topic on a whiteboard.
4. Provide short, frequent quizzes.
An immediate review of the points covered in a lesson helps keep that knowledge fresh in your learner’s minds. This is where a short quiz of 3–5 questions can help. The questions do not have to be difficult, because the point is not to grade your learners. Instead, they offer a chance for your learners to move the information they have just consumed from passive to active memory.
5. Be repetitive.
Hearing a piece of information multiple times helps solidify that information in our minds. It’s one of the psychological signals that the information is useful and worth holding on to. However, the timing of that repetition counts. Repeating the same sentence three times in a row won’t make it more memorable. But using it at the beginning, middle, and end of a lecture will.
Alternatively, citing the same piece of information in the body of your text, then including in a graphic, and using it once more in a review question will make it memorable by offering it in three different ways.
6. Condense and summarize.
After explaining a complex piece of information, summarize what you covered in a sentence or short paragraph that is easy for learners to remember. Creating a word or phrase can also help, by letting you reference a more complex topic easily whenever you need to with just a word or two.
Be careful of overdoing it, however. Encoding a word or short phrase with a larger concept is a way of making your own course-specific jargon. A little can help your learners remember. Too much, and it becomes confusing and alienating.
7. Start a discussion.
We’ve already discussed the benefits of an active community in your online course. But one positive feature we didn’t mention was how discussion can help cement information in place. Conversations are easier to recall than other pieces of information, because they require interaction. They also provide a space for learners to ask for clarification of a certain point, or to answer questions from their course mates.
Making your course memorable creates a more positive experience.
To create a successful online course, think beyond what you present and focus on how you present it. Courses aren’t better or more valuable just because they’re hard. In fact, some courses are made needlessly difficult as a result of poor presentation.
By examining the way in which you organize course content, you can offer a clearer and more compelling lesson. Your learners will retain more of what they learn, and will be less frustrated with your class. They will probably also feel more confident, and that confidence will lead to better reviews and more referrals.