“It was too much all at once. I was overwhelmed.” That’s not something you want to see in the feedback for your association’s eLearning. Luckily, there are ways to make eLearning more digestible, regardless of the subject matter. Managing content density is the key.
What is Density?
In essence, density is how much “stuff” is packed into a given space. A higher density means there’s more “stuff” and the object is harder. For example, water is less dense than concrete. Think of your eLearning as a pool. You want your learners to swim from one side to the other. It takes energy to get there, but it’s a reasonable goal. What happens if you ask them to swim through the concrete pool wall instead of the water? That doesn’t seem reasonable anymore, and they’ll know it. When you pack too much content into a course and make it too dense it’s suddenly a lot harder.
What Adds to Content Density?
Everything a learner sees, hears, or interacts with adds to the density. You want to strike the right balance by providing what the learner needs without overwhelming them. A ten screen course may sound inviting, but if each screen has five minutes of audio narration and extensive on-screen text with images you may be looking at fifty screens of content crammed into ten. That’s like trying to swim through the pool wall. It leads to frustration and fewer completions.
The types of screens in a course make a difference too. Activities and assessment questions are a good example. An easy multi-choice question will seem less dense than a more difficult one, even if they have the same amount of text or other content. What’s going on here? Remember, density includes anything the learner interacts with. If the learner needs to think about something they’re interacting with it intellectually. Activities should be more involved. After all, you want learners thinking about and applying what they’re learning, and that takes mental effort.
How Dense is “Too Dense”?
It’s not an exact science, but any time a learner reacts to a screen with something like, “Wow, that’s a lot” or “How long is this?” you should consider addressing the density. You can have a focus group go through the course before roll out so you can gather their feedback and address any issues. If that’s not an option, find someone who wasn’t involved in creating the course and ask them to do the same thing.
Ways to Manage Density
- Only include essential content in your eLearning
- Provide directions and/or links to “nice to know” information
- Make a series of short eLearning offerings rather than one big one
- Focus on having one main idea per screen
- Use more, less-dense screens rather than a few dense ones
- Only use animations when it’s appropriate, not whenever “because they’re fun”
- Use them to draw attention to key information and “build” visual content a little bit at a time
- Leave some “breathing room” or white space on screen, it doesn’t need to be filled
- Avoid screens with long narration as best as you can, especially if a screen is static
- Make questions and activities thought provoking
Give your learners room to “swim” to success by managing your eLearning’s density. Everything that is seen, heard, or interacted with in a course contributes to content density. In most cases less density is better, but activities and assessments are often a key exception. Interact with this content intellectually by leaving a comment below.
If you’d like to learn more about custom eLearning course creation from Digitec Interactive, visit our eLearning page.
If you’d like to read more about instructional design best practices, check out the rest of this author’s blogs.
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