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Like Short Book Chapters, Short eLearning Courses are Better

— by Bill Cushard


In 2003, I worked on a project to break up long eLearning courses into shorter versions. In an early meeting to discuss how we would tackle the problem, the idea came up to “chunk” up the courses, so we called the project, “Chunky Monkey.” The catalyst was that we were getting direct feedback that the courses were too long, and in a call center, taking people off the phones is not something to do unless there is a darn good reason. We thought that by breaking up our eLearning courses into short modules, they could be completed during idle times between customer calls.

We had a specific reason for breaking up our eLearning course, but there are plenty of other reasons. Here are three. First, people have short attention spans. Second, they like a visible sense of accomplishment. Third, creating short, independent eLearning modules allows content to be repurposed for multiple uses.

Let’s talk about each of these reasons below.

Short Attention Spans

One reason to break up a course into short, modules is that people have short attention spans. I am not necessarily talking about a person’s ability to concentrate on a single topic for a certain period of time. I am simply talking about the amount of time people are willing or able to devote to self-paced eLearning. With people’s busy schedules, it is difficult to devote an hour or even a full thirty minutes to completing a training class. However, most people could spend ten minutes.

So if you can, break that one hour eLearning course into six, ten minute individual, independent modules.

Sense of Progression and Accomplishment

It might seem silly, and I am not exactly making a case for gamification, however, there is something to the idea that people like to make visible progress through a process in short independent steps. Do you remember when you had an incomplete Linkedin profile and “75% complete” starred at you every time you logged in? It made you want to complete a task to get your profile closer to 100%. And if you didn’t have time to completed your entire Linkedin profile in one sitting, you could do small tasks at a time. Add an education entry today. Add volunteer work the next.

It is the same with an eLearning course. You can complete module number one today and module two on Friday because they are short and easier to fit into your schedule.

Modules Can Be Independent

Now that you have broken up your eLearning course into individual sections, you can take those individual sections and turn them into independent tutorials that can stand alone. There may be people in your audience who only want to take a specific tutorial to refresh their memory. Rather than register for your entire eLearning course and click through page-after-page just to find a particular section, they can simply find, register, and complete the topic they want.

This removes friction and makes it easier for people to get what they need from your eLearning courses.

Mindflash Makes it Easy to Break Up Your eLearning Course

Mindflash LMS has a feature called Series of Courses, which allows you to put multiple eLearning courses in a specific sequence that you specific. This is a powerful feature because now you can break up your eLearning courses into smaller chunks and visibly show people how to progress through each module.

Dreading the 47-page Chapter

If the reasons above do not convince you to break up your eLearning course into multiple short sections, ask yourself this question, “Would you rather read a book with four, 100-page chapters or a book with ten, ten-page chapters?”

Bill Cushard, author, blogger, and learning experience (LX) designer, is a human performance technologist (HPT) with extensive, in-the-trenches experience building learning organizations in start-up and hyper-growth organizations like E*TRADE, the Knowland Group, and Accenture. You can follow him on Twitter or on Google+.

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