Overwhelming learners with too much information at once can cause them to abandon your course.
In the excitement of writing your first course lesson, it’s all too easy to become carried away by all the content you want to include and lose sight of how overwhelming it might be for a new learner. As a subject matter expert, there’s obviously a lot you know and want to share with your learners about your course.
However, including too much too fast can discourage learners. They begin to feel swept away by the flood of information, and quickly drop out as the amount they have to keep up with becomes more than they can manage.
Managing the flow of information is key to helping your learners succeed. So, before you get ahead of yourself, here’s a few steps you should take to make sure your readers can keep up.
1. Create a course outline.
The lack of a course outline is one of the primary causes of an information dump. Instructors who dive in to their first lesson are more likely to include an excess of information because they haven’t organized their material into a logical progression. They try to make too many points all at once, and while each piece of information may be just as important as the next, they don’t all need to be delivered at the same time.
This is what makes course outlines such a powerful tool for online instructors. They structure your content across the entire course, so that you can organize when and how to progress through the material. With a better overview of their course, instructors can keep track of which information they’ve shared with their learners, and which information is coming later in the course.
2. Give your learners a framework for the content you plan to cover.
Knowing the course outline is important for you, but it’s also important for your learners. This is what a course syllabus is good for: it’s a road map for the content to come, so that learners can see how everything fits together.
Without context, learners are more likely to feel lost in the course. They don’t know what’s coming up, or how their current content will apply to future lessons. By sharing the plan with your learners, it not only makes them feel less disoriented, it helps them remember the material by connecting it with the bigger picture.
3. Create a glossary of terms—and make it easy to find.
Sometimes it’s not the quantity of information that’s difficult for learners to digest, but the abundance of new terminology. An entry-level course in a new field of study can sometimes feel like learning a new language, and that’s disorienting for learners who feel like they have to stop and look up buzzwords every paragraph.
Instead of dropping your learners into the deep end and expecting them to learn to swim the hard way, offer them tools to find their way as they go. The easiest step would be to create a glossary page they can keep open in a second window and refer to whenever they need. Even better, keep an easy-reference glossary in a sidebar as your learners read though the lesson so that they can glance at it whenever they need to remember a course content.
4. Edit yourself.
Yes, you have a lot to say. As a knowledgeable, authoritative source in your industry, that’s what your students expect. But you don’t need to say it all in your first course—let along your first lesson.
Go through your course content and try to identify topics that you could classify as beginner, intermediate, or advanced. If you find yourself including too many advanced topics in an intermediate course, set them aside for later. Doing so not only prevents you from overloading your learner, it gives them a reason to sign up for your next course.
5. Create extra credit material.
Do you have a lot of supplementary material you would like to include, but doesn’t seem to be quite on theme for your lesson? Well, you should trust your instincts: if it feels like a tangent, it probably is.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t indulge it anyway! It’s fine to separate the fun “extra” material from the information that’s critical for learners to digest when taking your course. However, marking the difference between these two types of information can help your learners prioritize where they spend their time and energy.
An “extra credit” portion of your course lets your learners know that the information you’re about to cover isn’t mandatory and won’t be covered in final tests, but is relevant to your course and likely to be interesting to learners who have the time to dig a little deeper.
There’s always a learning curve. (Try not to make it too steep.)
Every learner needs time to orient themself in a new course, and there are always going to be some lessons that are more challenging for learners than others. But by taking a big picture view of your course, editing and repackaging extraneous material, and offering resources to learners to help them keep track of new concepts and terminology, you will have done a lot to help your learners get over some of the hurdles in your course.
Learning curves are a natural result of encountering new information. It’s up to you not to turn them into barriers.