When writing a research paper or a blog article, you’re focused on keeping it short and sweet. Get to the point and move on. It can be tempting to apply the same approach to eLearning. But, on the contrary, eLearning is a medium in which saying more can be better; redundancy and repetition are tools in your instructional design toolkit. We’ll take a look at using redundancy effectively in eLearning. Mainly we’ll consider approaches to communicating the same concept in slightly different ways, at different times or different situations.
The unique thing about teaching people is that it’s your job to ensure they’ve learned what they need to learn; and that can take unique approaches for everyone. We can’t simply broadcast our piece, hope the audience gets it, and call it a day. Otherwise, why would instructional designers exist in the first place?
Think of what it takes to be a good teacher. Is it one who speaks as few words as possible in their lecture? Probably not. Good teachers adapt to the needs of each student. They can identify what students are struggling with and have a follow up that helps them understand the topic better. Maybe they ask a meaningful question, tell a relatable story, or use a role-play activity. And if the first follow up doesn’t do the job, they’ll keep trying. Good teachers have many tools available to help everyone, not just the straight “A” whiz kids.
Why Redundancy is Worth the Effort
When we say redundancy, we don’t mean chanting the same phrase over and over (although that might be effective for brainwashing). We mean it in the good teacher way: preparing alternative explanations in your content for learners who might need it. This might take the form of additional multimedia, questions, feedback, examples, activities, and more. eLearning is about helping the stragglers, not just the people who already get it.
The concern about this kind of redundancy is that it is more work to create because more explanations mean more content. When we are on a time crunch, it’s normal to ask why create content that only 10% of users might need. However, it is an instructional designer’s job to create the necessary redundancy to teach as many people as possible. That 10% is your main audience, they are the ones who need training (your product) the most.
Adding Good Redundancy
The interactive nature of eLearning offers instructional designers an opportunity to add redundant content that only appear when needed. Additional explanations shouldn’t slow down learners who understood the content on the first try and are ready to move on. Your design should integrate these pieces into the content as a response to user input in the same way a teacher responds to their student.
Provide learners with ways to access the extra content by interacting with it. Display content when learners answer questions incorrectly or choose to dig deeper. Don’t just display everything at once and overwhelm them. Think of more possibilities, cases, common mistakes, etc. that expand on the core concept. Go several layers deep. Collect information from students and subject matter experts; find out what needs further explanation.
A Practical Approach to Using Redundancy Effectively in eLearning
Here is an approach you might use to fully teach a new concept. Start with the core concept but anticipate ways the learner might misunderstand it or questions they might have. A subject matter expert would be able to provide a lot of suggestions in this area. Build content blocks for this additional information but prompt the learner before displaying them. Think of it as a “choose your own adventure” design where more content is presented as the learner interacts with it.
Here is a set of possible ways to explain and re-explain a concept in a lesson. The notes marked with an asterisk are potential core steps that always appear. The rest are optional content that only appear if prompted.
- Introduce the main concept*
- Provide examples
- Explain it again using additional graphics or analogies
- Ask questions related to the materials *
- Provide hints and clarification for wrong answers
- Cover common mistakes and misconceptions
- Display links to additional resources
- Summarize the core ideas and take-aways*
- Provide resources and job aids that can be used later
- Add a frequently asked question about this topic
- Provide a way to collect feedback and questions– respond to them!
Just running through this hypothetical list, we have created 11 different avenues to explain a key concept. However, only 4 of these show up at first; the rest are designed to appear only if the learner expands the section or answers a question incorrectly.
While some learners might have all they need from the core steps, they are likely a small minority and our work as instructional designers is not done. Each additional resource might help a greater and greater percentage of learners understand the content.
Redundancy can be a good thing in eLearning but it’s all in how you apply it. Most learners need multiple attempts to truly grasp a new concept. Instructional designers are constantly challenged to provide a experiences that help push learners over that milestone. We have to anticipate where learners could get lost and prepare content to get them back on track. Consequently, we also have to find clever ways to check if the learner needs to see the content or not. These are all things to consider in using redundancy effectively in eLearning because redundancy itself is neither right or wrong– it’s how you use it.