Content creation for online learning: less is more!

Reading time: 9 minutes

When designing an e-course, it is crucial to understand that students will learn and remember the information to use in the future. The training course creator should be aware of different training technologies and use the essential principles of working with information (for example, presenting and structuring data). Meanwhile, it is imperative not to overdo your content delivery, especially if you are interested in your students' high performance. After all, if you overload students with information, they won't master the knowledge (which means they will not receive the expected benefit from online education).

Let's look at some critical aspects of content creation for online courses and understand when less is more.

Why Are Students Not Always Able To Remember What They Have Learned Previously

Lila Dawachi, director of the Center for Learning, Memory, and Emotion at NYU, said people experience coherence while learning. It is achieved by combining your content with the so-called "golden thread" - a central theme. This connecting link ensures the high assimilability of knowledge, and it helps the brain organize new information into so-called "schemas." Cognitive structures or concepts help organize and interpret information. If students are familiar with a specific concept, it will be much easier to learn new information.

If you remove the "golden thread" from your e-learning content, the brain will learn new information as separate elements. This is comparable to what popcorn looks like. New cores are scattered all over the place, making it difficult to assemble into a whole. Therefore, it is vital to use two types of schemas that help retain and recall learned information - the structure of educational content and the content itself.

The organizational structure can be different. For example, you can break an online course into separate parts. But if your task is to create a short instructional video, use three key questions:

  • What should students learn?
  • Why is it important?
  • What needs to be done to learn?

When it comes to content, it's better to use the "less is more" method. It is much better to focus on a few critical concepts than to spread the students' attention over the many concepts that need to be learned. And don't forget about the unifying element that should connect all the pieces of educational content (for example, a specific metaphor or mnemonic device). After all, thanks to the "golden thread," students will be able to remember what they learned earlier quickly and better.

What Impacts the Learning

The two most essential aspects of mastering new knowledge are thinking and attention. Also, the success of online learning depends on executive functions (e.g., ability to make plans, set specific goals, make decisions, evaluate progress and prevent harmful actions).

Thinking depends on working (short-term) memory, which is the amount of information a student can remember at a specific moment. The volume of working memory expands at primary school age, so children are trained with tasks for mental processing of information (finding a picture that fits the meaning, oral counting, learning the alphabet, etc.)

Attention is a resource as limited as working memory, and it is tough to focus on several things simultaneously. Moreover, stress and fatigue affect the ability to retain new knowledge in working memory and concentration. Therefore, it is crucial to study the following question.

Why You Shouldn't Overload Your Students With Information

According to cognitive load theory, the human brain stores information in "schemas," which are unique structures that allow you to solve problems and think. Also, they make it possible to perceive the various elements within the lesson as a whole. As a result, schemas form our knowledge base.

For the student to successfully master the new knowledge, it is necessary to change the structure of the schema. Then a person will understand the information, process the received data in the working memory, and fix them in the long term. This allows you to build on the knowledge gained in the future and expand your competencies in many areas.

What happens if you grant learners too much information? Most likely, they will make too many mistakes and will not fully immerse themselves in the online course topic, which is called cognitive overload. Students will lose the motivation to work further and stop studying in the future.

If you don't change the structure of the cognitive schema of the students, they will not process the e-course material. Therefore, content needs to be crafted to reduce the risk of cognitive overload. This approach will also allow students to quickly and efficiently assimilate new knowledge to use it in their work.

Types of Cognitive Load

Есть три типа когнитивной нагрузки, которые напрямую влияют на онлайн обучение:

  • Inner. It is considered as the level of complexity of tasks or educational material. Some topics are more complicated to understand than others. Complex tasks are more likely to cause internal cognitive overload.
  • Outer. This type of load includes extraneous actions or elements that make students think (for example, complex graphs). They can be removed from the e-course without much difficulty.
  • Reasonable. It allows students to concentrate on the lesson's topic and successfully enhance the knowledge base.

Any online course needs to be developed to dominate the latter type of cognitive load, as it is most effective.

How to Apply a Less Is More Approach to Online Courses

At first glance, this conjecture may seem illogical, but it determines the training courses' involvement and completeness. How do you get more value from less content?

First, stop asking yourself, "What else can you add to the course?" Instead, ask yourself the following questions:

  • If students can only remember three concepts after an online course, which ones are essential? How can I explain their importance?
  • How will students apply the gained knowledge in their work?
  • How can I help them to learn?
  • How can I distribute the workload so that students spend a minimum of time?
  • Can I host online workshops to review homework and summarize the e-course?
  • How can I test training videos to ensure that students effectively understand what they learn?

Research has shown that learning is assimilated better when classes are spread over time. Agree, students will like to study for 1 hour for five days, more than 2.5 hours for two days, and this approach allows the brain to structure the information it receives faster.

5 Ways to Make Online Course Easy for Students

If you want to reduce the cognitive load on your students, here are some tips!

Keep It Simple

Yes, writing short and succinctly is much more complicated than stretching one paragraph to fill the entire page or 10 minutes of video. However, short videos and texts reduce the cognitive load, and lengthy explanations consume vast amounts of short-term memory. Therefore, leave only the information that deserves attention in your online course and helps explain the topic.

According to a study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, 500-word readers are the best at remembering and conveying information. At the same time, those participants who read the text without a summary at the end showed the lowest results.

Apply Different Techniques

When people know that there will be practice after theoretical knowledge, they take the learning process seriously.

One of the most popular methods is the "request method." Explain the concept to students, and then invite them to reflect on what they have learned. For example, think up and write one or two sentences using a new term.

Studies have shown that such tasks to work out the assimilated knowledge increase learning effectiveness.

Divide the Course Into Separate Parts

It is probably the easiest way to reduce student workload. In this case, they will move on to a new lesson only when they have fully mastered the material of the current lesson. This will allow learners not to overload short-term memory and fix information in the long term.

Remove Unnecessary Information

It is also vital to remove information buzz from e-learning which makes the course more complicated. This can be a complex course interface, an overloaded video design, or instructions that are difficult to understand. All extraneous details should not draw attention to themselves to not clutter up the working memory.

Therefore, it is necessary to remove irrelevant information, unnecessary visual elements and leave what is needed to work with the topic of the course. The main goal is to focus students' attention on the educational material.

Include Additional Materials

Additional materials can significantly ease short-term memory. Moreover, they can be used directly in the learning process to increase effectiveness. The most common elements used in online courses are:

  • step-by-step instructions for completing complex tasks;
  • detailed problem analysis as an example;
  • the vocabulary of new terminology that is used during the course;
  • schematic maps that show the link between individual concepts.

All of these materials can make the learning experience better for students.


Work on your cognitive load if you want to launch the most practical and effective online course. After all, if students work with a massive array of unnecessary information, they will make many mistakes and will not fully assimilate new knowledge.

If you need to add more content to your course, remember how you are preparing for a long trip. Most likely, you are not trying to fit the entire wardrobe in a suitcase but take only the most necessary things. It works the same with online learning; choose the essential elements to help students succeed.

Your listeners trust you to work on something exciting and useful for them in the near future. And if you adhere to the principle of "less is more," then your course will benefit from using scientifically proven methods of memorizing.

We hope this article was helpful to you. If you still have questions about creating content for online courses, leave them in the comments. We will answer them and analyze the most interesting ones in the following articles!