Home > General eLearning Design, Similarities between Course Design and Magic (!) > The Magic of Instructional Design – Thought #8: Less Content Please…

The Magic of Instructional Design – Thought #8: Less Content Please…

Back to some similarities between Instructional Design and Close-up Magic!

There is a classic card trick called “The Ambitious Card”.  A card, (usually signed by the spectator to prove it is not a “fake”) keeps on re-appearing at the top of a pack of cards held by the magician. The magician replaces it in the middle of the cards; it appears again, and again, and again, many phases – sometimes ad nauseum…

When the magician has finally proved his/her knowledge of, and competence in card sleights the ends the routine with the card appearing in a novel way, often in a novel place. The only problem is that many laypeople/spectators have had enough around a quarter of the way through.

There is a lot of existing material about learning SMEs, and their propensity to believe course consumers need and want to know as much as they do. Learning and magic are not about throwing endless “stuff” at people just because you or your SME thinks it is interesting. Think about what the audience needs, as a minimum, and give them that. Anything else that supports the learning can be a link, a web object, a User Tab or an Attachment of some sort. Sometimes, a client or course sponsor demands more in the course. Sometimes we should acquiesce; sometimes it is our “duty” to explain that “less is more”, rather than accepting that “more is more”, (or in this case “Moore is More”). Cathy Moore has a fantastic view on this at http://blog.cathy-moore.com/2010/03/how-to-convert-the-toughest-sme/

I guess my point is this…..sometimes it’s OK to have an eLearning or classroom course cover just one learning point, quickly. We should not be fearful that, in some way, we are short-changing our audience or our sponsor. Recently, I asked a course sponsor whether we could add some more material to an eLearning course, as it was only 8-slides long. He mailed me back saying, (and I paraphrase…) “It’s OK, this is not a complex subject, this is good material, it’s enough – you taught me that“. It was nice to have someone remind me of my own point of view and beliefs 🙂

I recently performed the “Ambitious Card” with one-phase only. I had a card chosen and signed, the card was signed, put back on top of the rest of the cards. I cut the cards, and completed the cut, and the card was back on top. My audience loved it. I had just proved the futility of shuffling with another trick, and now I had just proved the futility of cutting.

Perhaps we can get our learning audiences to like us more if we just remember to give them less.

  1. November 22, 2010 at 8:46 pm

    Hi Bruce, Thanks for the magical perspective! I am a big fan of Action Mapping and try to use the process with all of my clients- While we don’t always end up with a course that’s free of extraneous info, it’s great to start with action mapping and blank slate- rather than with a 200 slide PPT deck and add information back from there.



    • November 23, 2010 at 5:20 pm

      Thanks for the comment Ethan. I work mainly with clients who have that idea, whi already have that PowerPoint. I always try and link the “behaviour” side, (the “Actions” in Action Mapping) into the slides, and try to get to a position where I have a hybrid. I think people are very open to ideas, even when they have a slideset, and sometimes, it’s too much of a cultural shock to go immediately away from a known and accepted corporate look and feel when moving to en eLearning culture.
      Take care.


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