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Read more Clive Shepherd

Founding Partner

Skills Journey

There are three vowels in

'learning' and 'i' comes last

Digital learning content comes in many forms.

Sometimes the intention is simply to provide

information at the point of need, sometimes to

stimulate reflection and discussion,

sometimes to allow a learner to explore a

subject in depth. But for many of us our bread

and butter is instruction - doing the best we

can to make sure our target audience

understands and can apply a concept, a

principle, a process, a rule or a procedure.

When this is the case, we simply have to

apply what we know about teaching and

learning carefully and systematically. In

particular, I would argue, we need the right

balance between three critical elements:

• information, in the form of our principal

learning point(s)

• elaboration, in the form of examples and


• activities that allow learning points to be

put into practice, explored and


I'm sure we would agree that the 'i', the 'e'

and the 'a' are all important, but do we

provide these in the right proportions? I would

contend that a typical ratio in a self-study

module would be i:60, e:20, a:20. I am going

to argue for something very different.

Above all, we need to avoid information

overload. As instructional designer, Julie

Dirksen warns: 'Most learning experiences are

structured around lots of new information.

Lots and lots of new information. The problem

with this is that it's exhausting for your

learners. Do you really want to ask a new

learner to bike straight uphill for the entire


I believe that we will achieve much more by

limiting the amount of new information we

provide in any given learning module. In the

long run, it is better to teach one idea

comprehensively than ten ideas superficially.

Teaching 'comprehensively' starts with the

examples we provide. Because learning is

essentially a process of recognising patterns

and making connections, it is not possible for

new learning to occur in isolation. Learners

are not empty vessels, waiting to be filled with

new knowledge - any new learning has to

connect to something that's already there. For

this reason, it is easy to see why explanations

that make the link between new learning and

prior knowledge as obvious as possible are

going to help the learner.



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