Tuesday, May 25, 2010

10 ways to keep courses short

Cognitive overload is the norm in education and training. New teachers present too much too soon, to bewildered learners. Lecturers hammer out dense, hour long lectures. Trainers construct overlong, padded-out courses. Whether it’s classroom, lecture, conference talk, workshop or e-learning, it’s usually too long. Don't take a scalpel to your courses, take an axe - aim for 30% reduction on first pass.
1. Learning objectives – if your course has these up front - ditch them. They’re boring and irrelevant. You need to interest learners, not turn them off.
2. ‘Introduction’ – if this appears as your first module, chapter, slide etc – cut it. I don’t mean make it shorter, I mean massacre it. ‘The history of…’ is particularly irrelevant.
3. Pretty but useless graphics – all those graphics that simply illustrate and don’t instruct –stock photos of over eager people in smart offices. Don’t insert graphics that simply match key nouns in the text.
4. Text – cut, cut and cut again. All those adjectives, clichés and long sentences. Forget the language of print such as ‘With regard to ‘ etc. Use short sentences. Use more bullet points.
5. Audio – if it’s background music get rid of it. Annoying beeps on input will also drive people crazy. Extraneous audio is a waste of time and may actually distract from learning.
6. Annoying animation - Animated words and transitions, that are all whiz-bang but serve no instructional purpose. Use sparingly. Animation is only useful if you have to show movement. Flash is the usual suspect – reign those flashers in.
7. Video – anything longer than a TV ad is suspect. Keep as short as possible. Think YouTube, not TV.
8. Glossary – only in very technical courses. If you’re using words the learner doesn’t understand, rewrite, don’t rely on a glossary.
9. Abandon fixed times – don’t do the ‘1 hour’ of learning or 1 hour lecture or full day course. Make it only as long as it needs to be.
Happy sheets – they don’t tell you anything about learning, so abandon them altogether.

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Blogger Francis said...

Good post, Donald. What's a 'Happy Sheet'?

9:55 PM  
Anonymous Wynn Lestrem said...

Yes Donald,
I agree with you.
Good points, all.
What was the point of your cartoon? How did it help?

10:15 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Endemic in training - evaluation sheets given out after courses/talks. Complete waste of time, as data is not sampled and tells you nothing about learning.

9:51 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

You got me! Cartoon - lazy Google images search!

9:52 AM  
Anonymous Robert Kennedy III said...

Great cartoon. It helped me learn about keeping courses "short". Yup, I got it :-).


12:20 PM  
Blogger Mark Berthelemy said...

Donald, I agree totally.

My only question is how do you quantify content, when a client asks for x amount of elearning, or they ask what they will get for £x?

I agree it's a crazy measure, but I haven't found anything else yet.


1:49 PM  
Blogger Rob Alton said...

Good points, particularly the one about keeping vid clips short. There is a myth that video makes things more 'intersting' - it doesn't.

2:08 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Good question Mark - I'm working on another post on this very issue.

3:40 PM  
Blogger Betsy said...

THANK YOU for suggesting to ditch the objectives at the beginning...I've always believed they are useless to the learner (but very useful to the ID!)

4:29 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

An important distinction.LOs are useful when designing and writing content but presenting them to the learner at the start kills curiosity and gets the learning experience off to a bad start. Gagne was to blame.

8:52 AM  
Anonymous Neil Prior said...

You've made some very good points here Donald, although I think you've been a little shortsighted in suggesting the removal of a Happy Sheet. Feedback is important for the continued improvement of a course. I don't think you should close the door on an opportunity to learn something, and don't presume the student can't teach you something.

I'm not convinced about dropping the LOs either. If you're trying to cut the information down to the essential points for learning, by explaining what these are first you let the student skip what they already know or focus on what they need to know.

11:40 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Hi Neil
see new post on 'Happy Sheets'. On LOs, I don't see LOs as diagnostics, guiding learners through content - they're stated and the course begins. I have no problem with diagnostics.

12:08 PM  
Blogger Tony Karrer said...

Great post Donald!

8:49 PM  
Blogger Steve Mackenzie said...

@Mark Berthelemy - package it as faith based learning :-).

11:06 PM  
Blogger Liz said...

I'd like to "reprint" this in a digital ezine our company sends out to trainers. May I get permission?

4:23 AM  
Blogger Irena said...

You can't beat the Tell 'em whatya gonna tell'em, tell'em then tell'em what you told 'em approach

8:13 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Liz - no problem, would appreciate a link to blog, that's all

8:33 AM  
Blogger Mark Berthelemy said...

@Steve Ideas like trust and faith don't sit well in a written contract, which is designed to quantify everything in sight!

8:39 AM  
Anonymous Del Stevens said...

LO's upfront are essential for learners who 'stumble-upon' content. Gotta be able to sign-post what's inside so that relevance to user can be identified.

If the course is about tins of beans, but the Objective 'how to open' isn't stated, I know I need to look elsewhere.

10:39 PM  
Blogger Madhumita said...

I liked the post and I liked the cartoon.
I agree about the Smile Sheets. They are of little relevance to the learning.
The LOs though - I wouldn't use LOs for k-12 and Higher Education courses, but I've found htem very useful in professional courses like those for IT professionals. Don't you think they serve as good advance organizers?

9:38 AM  
Blogger cristina said...

I agree on some of the ideas you are sharing but not in all of them you need to say what are you going to talk about, every thing has an abstract at least giving general idea on what you are going to read or learn. Agree totally with non related to topic images, useless audio and abuse of video and animations, learning is the objective.

4:05 PM  
Blogger Patti said...

I agree to keep training lean as possible. But cutting objectives? I don't agree. It's part of engaging the learners by giving them the goal before you start the learning. I do agree and have heard - Be bright, be brief, be gone. Cognitive overload is real. So lose all extraneous stuff in the bathwater but keep the baby. Use animation only if helps the topic but keep in mind a picture can be much more valuable than words if you can use one that is appropriate and not distracting. Also, I disagree about the level 1 evals. It depends on how they are written. Smile sheets are useless but if they are truly level 1 evals, the results can tell you much about how the learner walked away from the training and their resulting self-efficacy.

3:06 PM  
Anonymous Paul Left said...

Agree with most of these items but definitely not the suggestion to drop learning objectives / outcomes.

If you have boring objectives, or present them in a boring fashion, sure they are a turn off.

Learners need to know why they are there - ie the purpose. Relevant and motivating objectives are part of this.

In the 'good old days', much education and training was poor quality precisely because it wasn't well founded on relevant and motivating objectives.

5:24 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Stout defence of 'Learning Objectives' by some commentators. What puzzles me, is that if learners are sitting there, having travelled by plane, train and automobile to attend a course, why would you wait until then to tell them what the course was about and what's in the course. Surely the title and course description should have been made available so that these people who 'don't' know what's in the course could make a choice on whether to attend or not. Does this actually suggest that many people are attending courses without knowing what they're about or why they're there?
On 'motivation' most objectives are presented in old training speak, as in 'The objectives of this course are....' That's just plain dull.

10:48 AM  
Anonymous Del Stevens said...

This is obtuse argument - you are simply suggesting that you maintain LOs, but put them in the 'advertising literature'. Now you have LOs there - but also need to include them in the course for those who have been directed to attend / take the course and have arrived clueless (don't pretend THAT doesn't happen in the real world!) So now I actually have 2 sets of LOs that I need to keep in sync.
The production of LOs by rote (the objective of this course.. etc etc) is not ideal - but in identifying the NEED for the training (both to external bean counters and those taking the training) they have to be overt.

9:06 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Slow down there Del. You're puytting words into my mouth. I don't believe in simply shunting LOs back into the ad literature. The 'marketing' of training is usually woeful, and the last thing it needs are LOs in the literature. We need to look at other media to learn that advertising and marketing are key aspects and skills when attracting users, and that the last thing you do with an 'experience' (training or not) is bore the user with trainerspeak at the very start. The argument that you need explicit LOs for the 'bean counters' is a new one to me. Far better, I suspect, to do some reasonable (non-Kirkpatrick) evaluation.

10:05 AM  

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