When it Comes to E-learning, Less is More

I’ve been lucky enough to build e-learning courses since 1992, and over the past 12 years, DiscoverLink has had the privilege to work with more than 85 restaurant chains on their e-learning initiatives.  We’re asked to review and evaluate existing training programs with a goal of converting them to an online program that is paperless and cost-effective.  After reviewing dozens of legacy programs, we’ve seen it all – from good, effective programs to programs that were created 20 years ago and have more patches than I-65 in the winter.  But one thing we’ve continued to prove, time and time again, is that when it comes to e-learning, “less is more.”

The Conversion Problem


The tendency of training managers is to try to transition the entirety of an in-person training program to an e-learning format.  With huge training manuals and stacks of classroom training binders or training aids to convert, the result of this approach can be bloated e-learning programs that are way too long to hold the learner’s attention and just as ineffective as the legacy programs they’re intending to replace.

E-learning programs are most effective when they focus on delivering the right information, at the right time (and in the right timeframe!), to the right employees.  This means having targeted training messages that focus on the most essential learning goals.  The objective of e-learning is to make learners competent in a skill as quickly as possible so they can become productive in their role faster.

For example, if you are currently training new employees hands-on, you would never teach them how to make sandwiches, followed by how to cook all fryer items, followed by how to grill items, then how to stock and clean, all before they are allowed to practice.  You would teach them how to make sandwiches and let them work sandwiches while under a trainer’s supervision.  Then, you teach them how to run the fryer and let them practice that before moving on to the grill.

Eye on the Goal


“Nice-to-have” information has no place in e-learning.  The learner is hit with so much content, they lose track of what’s important, what they need to be aware of and what they need to remember.  It will diminish their comprehension.  Nice-to-have material will be learned on the job over time or via any number of other formats.   Only those elements that are absolutely necessary to achieving success, measured in the course goal, should be included.

Customers often ask what the ideal length for an e-learning course is. My response is that when the learning objectives have been achieved, is it the ideal length.  I am not being smug.  There are too many variables for a simple response.  Bottom line, when the learner is able to prove memorization, recall steps, and/or is capable of performing the task, the course should end so the learner can get on with practicing the new skill with his or her trainer.  That is the most effective formula for learning, whether electronic or otherwise.  As a best practice, we try to target between 10 and 30 minutes for e-learning courses to maximize learner engagement and attention span.  If more material is required than can fit in that window, the simple solution is to break it up into smaller modules that can be prioritized to be consumed incrementally.

A key value proposition of e-learning is to deliver high return on investment by increasing employee competency while reducing costs.  But that does not mean packing every element of an offline program into an e-learning course.  By focusing on the most critical aspects needed to achieve your goal, you’ll quickly see that less is more.