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How to Avoid Content Overload in Your Online Courses | Great Online Teaching

You are a passionate teacher.  You know that you can help others.  You want to give as much as you can.

But if you dump too much information onto your students at once, it will turn them off.  Instead of helping, you end up pushing them away.

Put yourself in the shoes of a student and remember a time when a teacher overloaded you with information and activities.  Can you get in touch with that feeling of overwhelm, panic, self-doubt?  Maybe you even gave into the impulse to walk away.  I know I have.  Who could blame you?

Now imagine that time when you felt empowered by success with the bite-sized pieces of information.  If you are like most of us, that small success motivated you to keep learning.

Just the Right Amount


You have to create just the right amount of content at three levels of organization: Course, Module and Lesson.  For each of these levels, the key to finding the sweet spot is always to know exactly what actions the student will take to demonstrate that they have learned what you want to teach.

You should be able to clearly articulate those actions before you decide what content to include:

“After this course/module/lesson, the students will be able to___________________.”  Fill in the blank with an action verb.    You should create 3 to 6 of these statements for each level (course, module and lesson).

Now comes the time to decide what information to include.  Review the action statements and ask yourself:  What do students need to know in order to be able to do that action?  Use this as your guide for how much to include.


But How Long Should You Make Everything?


The bull shitty answer is:  however long is needed to get the student to be able to do the action.  Not very helpful, I know.   Here are a few principles to use as guidelines.

  • People really do have the attention span of a gnat. You have 8 seconds to grab them, so you have to immediately provide the students with a reason to pay attention to the content.
  • Depending on who you ask, presentations should max out somewhere between 10 and 20 minutes. Keep in mind that TED talks are 18 minutes for a good reason.  According to some research, if your presentation goes more than 10 minutes, you should throw out another hook at about the 9-minute mark to get them paying attention again.
  • You should make a lesson for each of action statements you’ve crafted for the module. Aiming for 3 to 5 statements per module means that you should have about that many lessons in each module.
  • In the same way, you should have one module for each of the action statements you’ve created for the course. Most students are trying to fit your course in to very busy lives.  In order for them to feel success, create modules that can be completed in 1 to 2 hours – including all the content and the actions steps.  For most modules, that means the content for each module will be no more than an hour.
  • If you are dripping your modules weekly, try to keep it no longer than 6 weeks. Drawing it out longer will scare potential students away because most customers want results fast.

Ball-park figures for each level of organization:


Courses: 4 to 6 modules; no more than 6 weeks

Modules: 1 per course outcome; no more than an hour of content

Lessons: Max 18 minutes, shorter is better.  Reinvigorate if you go beyond 9 minutes.

Are you ready to create a course that hits that sweet spot of just the right amount of information?  Course Creation Rockstar will show you how.  Enrollment is opening soon for Fall 2017.