Content/Practice Ratio?

I end up seeing a lot of different elearning. And, I have to say, despite my frequent disparagement, it’s usually well-written, the problem seems to be in the starting objectives.  But compared to learning that really has an impact: medical, flight, or military training for instance, it seems woefully under-practiced.

So, I’d roughly (and generously) estimate that the ratio is around 80:20 for content: practice.  And, in the context of moving from ‘getting it right’ to ‘not getting it wrong’, that seems woefully inadequate.  So, two questions: do we just need more practice, or do we also have too much content. I’ll put my money on the latter.

To start, in most of the elearning I see (even stuff I’ve had a role in, for reasons out of my control), the practice isn’t enough.  Of course, it’s largely wrong, being focused on reciting knowledge as opposed to making decisisions, but there just isn’t enough.  That’s ok if you know they’ll be applying it right away, but that usually isn’t the case.  We really don’t scaffold the learner from their initial capability, through more and more complex scenarios, until they’re at the level of ability we want.  Where they’re performing the decisions they need to be making in the workplace with enough flexibility and confidence, and with sufficient retention until it’s actually needed.  Of course, it shouldn’t be the event model, and that practice should be spaced over time.  Yes, designing practice is harder than just delivering content, but it’s not that much harder to develop more than just to develop some.

However, I’ll argue we’re also delivering too much content.  I’ve suggested in the past that I can rewrite most content to be 40% – 60% less than it starts (including my own; it takes me two passes).  Learners appreciate it.  We want a concise model, and some streamlined examples, but then we should get them practicing.  And then let the practice drive them to the content.  You don’t have to prepackage it as much, either; you can give them some source materials that they’ll be motivated to use, and even some guidance (read: job aids) on how to perform.

And, yes, this is a tradeoff: how do we find a balance that both yields the outcomes we need but doesn’t blow out the budget?  It’s an issue, but I suggest that, once you get in the habit, it’s not that much more costly.  And it’s much more justifiable, when you get to the point of actually measuring your impact.  Which many orgs aren’t doing yet.  And, of course, we should.

The point is that I think our ratio should really be 50:50 if not 20:80 for content:practice.  That’s if it matters, but if it doesn’t why are you bothering? And if it does, shouldn’t it be done right?  What ratios do you see? And what ratios do you think makes sense?

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