Ahhh the dreaded information dump.
The sworn enemy of the instructional designer. The unintended sleeping aid for learners. The tragic waste of resources for an organization.
A ‘learning experience’ which just presents truckloads of content to its captive audience, with little context and little application practice to connect the information to real world action.
We’ve all experienced it, we all hate it, and it’s usually born with a request that sounds something like this:
“I’ve got 200 detailed powerpoint slides… can you convert this into elearning?”
You cringe when hearing this because you know the fundamental truth that your clients or bosses don’t: content doesn’t equal learning.
One of the most common mistakes I see new instructional designers make, is trying to ‘sneak in’ nuggets of real value to otherwise awful content dump courses.
Yes it’s scarier, and yes it can be harder to do, but a better approach long term is to be upfront about what you think should be done.
Even if it’s miles away from what you were asked for in the first place.
The major problem most people have when they are faced with these content dump requests, is an internal one. They lack the courage, or perhaps the expertise, to PUSH BACK against these requests and turn that content into something that is actually meaningful to the learners.
But as I will try to hammer home, pushing back, and telling people what they actually need, is your job.
If you do it, you’re going to be taken more seriously, and have a better chance of getting the budgets or resources you need in the future.
Because by taking a stand, you’ll be showing real value to your organization. And that demands respect.
So, in practice, how can you deal with requests like this from people that don’t really ‘get it’?
Well, the most effective place to start is to dig into what the person asking for this training, actually needs. Because if they’re dumping a huge stack of content on your desk and giving you vague instructions to ‘turn it into elearning,’ they most likely don’t know this themselves.
If that’s the case, you’ve got to be somewhat diplomatic and help them figure it out.
In industry lingo this process of mining for desired outcomes is called a ‘needs assessment.’
While you’re probably familiar with these already, let me reemphasize how important they really are, and why.
Here’s why: Because, doing a thorough needs assessment is BY FAR the best way to nip the content dump request in the bud, and produce a better outcome for everyone in the end.
It never hurts to review the fundamentals 😉
Now here’s the deal. When you’re faced with a stack of content, you need to remember that you’re being asked to create this training because someone, somewhere in your organization (or your client’s organization) wants to see a specific result above all else.
Whether this is a financial result, a performance based result, or something else, you can be sure that whoever is signing the checks isn’t hoping you’ll create learning for learning’s sake!
So at this point, the best thing you can possibly do for yourself, your organization, and your learners is to figure out in very specific terms what results the decision makers are after.
Once you hack through the generalites-jungle to uncover what they truly want, you’ll be able to reverse engineer the desired outcome into concrete goals for your learning solution.
I think we forget sometimes that this step is one of THE most important parts of the job.
Basically, instead of just complaining “that’s too much content”, you’re using the needs assessment as a tool to reframe the training request from a content focus, to a results focus.
When you speak the language of results, when you start the conversation here, you’re much more likely to persuade your clients or superiors to follow your lead.
This is the power of ‘buy in.’
(Sneaky-Advanced-Pro-Tip: if you really want to get major buy in from someone, try to make it seem like they came up with the idea 😉
When you get this needs assessment done well, then the content dump problem will likely fix itself. Maybe the person requesting the training will realize that including 100% of that content isn’t necessary.
Or that the content can best be used as a resource for learners to reference when working through the online training you create.
Or you may agree together that really what’s needed is several smaller and more focused learning scenarios, instead of trying to cram all the content into one monstrous whole.
The benefit to you here is obvious. You won’t be forced to create a huge piece of ‘learning’ which is nothing more than a fancy looking slideshow. Instead, when you get specific on desired outcomes you’ll be able to create laser focused training modules that are more engaging for learners and more effective in the end.
On top of that, whoever asked for the training will almost always be happier with what you provide, and will give you more respect and freedom to create learning in your future projects.
This my friend, is the awesome power of the needs assessment.
Neglect it at your peril.
Because if you don’t figure out the results your clients or bosses are after… you’re going to continue to have loads of content tossed on your desk.
And things aren’t likely to get better for you.
So the next time you’re faced with a content dump, remember: First, figure out what success looks like.