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February 6th, 2020 E-Learning

How much content belongs on each page? Here’s how to avoid overloading your learners.

Let me know if this situation sounds familiar to you: You’re writing a lesson, and as you work on it, the ideas keep coming. You want to add more videos, include every detail of information that comes to mind, and cram the page full of interactive features. Next thing you know, the page is a mile long and learners are struggling to complete lessons.

This problem, known as “content stuffing,” mostly stems from a good place. You want your learners to feel like they’ve gotten their value’s worth, after all. But there is such a thing as too much content—or at least, too much all at once. And all too frequently, the result of content stuffing leads to the opposite of the intended outcome. Instead of satisfied learners, educators are left with overwhelmed and discouraged learners.

Of course, just saying that it’s a bad idea doesn’t prevent many well-meaning course creators from doing it anyway. So before we talk about solutions, let take a closer look at some of the problems.

4 Reasons you should avoid content stuffing.

1. It makes for an unappealing layout on your course page.

Most of the time, a lesson with too much content will look as overwhelming on the page as it would be to complete. In fact, many educators accidentally misidentify the problem with their page as being one of design rather than substance. In other words, they see that the lesson looks bad, and they want to know how to make it look better.

The answer is simple: break it into pieces and put less on the page. You don’t need 3,000 words of text, a 50-minute video, and a 20-question interactive quiz to deliver a robust and engaging lesson. In fact, all those things in one place are going to turn users away.

Instead, keep your lesson to one topic per page, so that your learners aren’t turned away by the visual clutter.

2. Learners will struggle to complete a lesson within a reasonable time frame.

One of the main draws of online learning for many learners is that they can complete a course during moments of free time—on a lunch break, during a morning commute, in the evening after putting the kids to bed. In order to fit into their schedules, each lesson needs to be consumable in small pieces.

Placing tons of content on one page also leads to problems with mobile learning. Since many users consume content on smartphones or tablets, a crowded course page can lead to long load times and problems navigating the page. Shorter lessons lead to better mobility which means a more positive user experience.

3. Too much content per page contributes to cognitive load.

Imagine trying to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner in one sit-down meal. You’d walk away uncomfortably full, and you probably wouldn’t enjoy it much. The same analogy can be applied to learning—which is what cognitive load is all about.

Just as cramming the night before a test is a poor study strategy, trying to consume too much at once is counterproductive. It makes learners tired, and prevents them from absorbing as much as they would have if they’d covered their topics in smaller doses.

If each lesson can be completed in ten to fifteen minutes, then learners are better able to pace themselves, which avoids learner burnout.

4. Learners with special needs are more likely to feel overwhelmed by too much content.

Finally, content stuffing does a great disservice to any of your learners who have special needs. Autistic learners will feel more overwhelmed, dyslexic students will have a harder time differentiating between words on the screen, learners with poor motor control skills will have a hard time clicking on elements that are crowded too closely together.

It’s easy to view these concerns as being part of a small minority, but the reality is that, cumulatively, these learners comprise a significant segment of the learning population, and meeting their needs does not take a great deal of effort, most of the time. Simply by cutting down on the amount of information you’re cramming into a single lesson can go a long ways toward making the learning experience for these students that much better.

How to avoid content stuffing.

1. Organize your course into topics.

LearnDash has course topics for a reason. They allow course creators to break lessons into smaller segments with discrete end points. By making better use of these natural break points, you make it easier for your learners to engage with your lessons.

2. Use micro quizzes to help your learners review content.

Quizzes help learners retain information effectively by training their information recall skills. If you have a long lesson covering several topics, your learners are going to struggle to remember the content by the time they reach the end of a page. However, by breaking your lessons apart, you give yourself a natural review point for a small micro quiz. This helps your learners check their knowledge so they can be certain they’ve mastered the material before moving on.

3. Keep videos under twenty minutes, and closer to ten.

We’ve talked in the past about the ideal video length for e-learning. Many early distance courses were made by filming a lecture series, which means the videos were roughly fifty minutes long. But online formats should be significantly shorter—about the length of a Ted Talk, at most, and as short as a couple minutes in some cases.

Think about how you plan to use your video, and make it only as long as it needs to be to cover that topic. And if it gets longer, split it up into segments.

There’s no reason to stuff all your content on one page.

The bottom line on course creation is: include the essential information you need to communicate your point. If you have a tangential idea, either save it for a different lesson, or delete it entirely. As the famous Hemingway quote goes, sometimes, you have to kill your darlings to deliver your best work.

If you can’t stand the thought of leaving any of your content on the cutting room floor, then use it as blog content, or create a special, niche course to address that idea separately. You can even create a folder of ideas that you’re saving for a later date. If you start getting lots of questions about a topic you left out of your lesson, then you can return later and add it back in.

But most of the time, you’ll find that your learners catch on faster than you expect. So don’t bog them down with content they don’t need. Keep your lessons tight, and your learners will stick with you longer.


4 responses

Leave a Comment

I really loved this post Laura. So well written, concise and to the point. Hopefully many readers will read this post and start to seriously make adjustments to their existing content for the better.

Avatar Ryk

Thanks so much, Ryk! Glad it hit the mark. 🙂

Avatar Laura Lynch

Very good post Laura. Thank you and we are implementing this teaching into our course development.

Glad to hear, Ricardo!

Avatar Laura Lynch

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