Content Basics: LIMBIC Learning


I’ve just been reading an article on rapid e-learning (more of that in my next blog post), but it got my thinking - which is always a good thing.  There are some things I see time and time again in terms of material presented for ‘conversion’ to
e-learning (well, courseware actually if I’m being specific). A lot of the time this material is presented by an organisation as something they’d like done ’rapidly’.

  • More often than not the content structure isn’t that great
  • There’s simply too much of it
  • It focuses on facts, rather than the learners’ and organisation’s needs
  • Its tone and style is totally unsuitable – usually a highly passive ‘formaleese’
  • And it’s ‘why use an image, when a 1000 words will do?’

And this is just the tip of the iceberg, but there’s a bottom line issue: you’ve gotta sort out the basics no matter what you’re going to do with your content. So what follows isn’t necessarily best practice for e-learning, I’d say it was best practice for content -and it’ll make turning it into some form of learning/ e-learning material a whole lot quicker and easier.

Sort out a structure
All this needs to be is a simple flow that allows a learner to ‘get it’ and fit the details in with the big picture; maybe content wrapped around a timeline/ scenario. Don’t worry what. As long as it’s got a basic, clear structure – that’s good.

Cut it…
Aim to cut the text in documents to 40% of the original word count with ZERO loss of content. If all you’ve got are PowerPoints… well, first I hope they’re visuals because that’s a good thing. If they’re bullets… that’s not so good. Only thing here is to note down what’s said ‘over’ these PowerPoints when used - and then cut, cut, cut!

Then cut again!
Simply ditch the ridiculous. Take the dreaded listing of procedures for example – DITCH! I fall back when I see this. If you want it as content then give it a separate page to itself, or make it a printable take-away in a pdf so that whoever wants to can have it to hand when they go to DO – but think about what a learner is going to be able to DO based on this list. If nothing – say bye bye.

If it’s an actual procedure – video it! Much more powerful than a written list – I won’t bore you with the details, you get the picture…

And speaking of pictures…
Use images. Say it with pictures. Again, it’ll cut down words and enhance understanding when done appropriately. Slap any words that describe your picture, or even highlight your data, back into the image. And don’t repeat what the image does well in cumbersome text somehere removed fom your image – resist!

The story so far
OK, so we’ve a bit of a structure, 30% of the original word count, and nice informative (and more memorable) images… time to make it snappy by making your remaining words earn their keep. If you’ve not come across it before you should check out an essay by George Orwell that could support the point of view that he was the first writer to offer a style guide for online text! His 1946 essay ‘Politics and the English Language’ has six great tips for knocking-up some e-learning prose:

  • “Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print
  • Never us a long word where a short one will do
  • If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out
  • Never use the passive where you can use the active
  • Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent
  • Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous”

One more bullet I’d have added to Mr Orwell’s, but maybe a bit too much for 1946: make it chatty. Make your writing, your audio too if you want, warm, friendly, personable – not HAL from 2001.

Now I’m not advocating this for everything, not all the time. It’s not about dumbing down. It’s about simply making things clear and easy so that the channel doesn’t get in the way of the content. There are loads more tips about how to write in a learner/ web friendly way – but that’s something you can chase up if you need to.

You can add some quizzes, interactivity, or even turn it into a simulation – that’s all fine. But that comes after you’ve got your content sorted. Once that’s sorted everything should simply flow into its place, no matter what the pedagogy you decide. A waste of effort this is not – you will need basic content whatever the approach.


  1. I found this article useful in a paper I am writing at university. Hopefully, I get an A+ now!


    Bernice Franklin

    Posted by Anonymous

    Link | February 14th, 2010 at 1:34 pm

Leave Your Comment