What’s the difference between a book and pages filled with words? It’s simple. Structure.

Well-structured online courses can make the difference between a poorly performing course and a best-selling one.

Fortunately, many online course creators are starting to realize that to keep students’ attention online they need to go beyond creating helpful content; they need to carefully consider every detail – including how they organize it effectively. This will determine how students will consume, experience, and apply what they are learning.

What’s so different about creating online courses these days is that you’re not just selling information–you’re selling an experience. You need your course to be intentionally inviting and engaging. You also need to teach content the way students want to be taught.

“What’s so different about creating online courses these days is that you’re not just selling information–you’re selling an experience.” Tweet this

Online Course Design in the Era of Short Attention Spans

Once you have a clear vision of who you’re targeting and what you’re teaching, figure out HOW MUCH you need to teach. I want to hammer home a couple of things. The first and most important one is, you don’t need to teach your students everything you know. Your students only need to know as much as they need in order to produce an outcome. The second one is, assume your students have a short attention span.

Now before you get all offended on their behalf, I want to say that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, we are living in the Digital Era–where distractions are everywhere! Having to plan your online course around the fact that your students are easily distracted, isn’t a good or bad thing; it’s simply something you need to work with! To create a best-selling online course, you need to keep educated on how to cater your content to a busy and distracted audience.

This is why I’ve decided to share with you one of my key strategies to help keep an audience focused and engaged: micro-learning!

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What is Micro-Learning?

Micro-learning is an action-oriented course organization approach of breaking down of content into topical, bite-sized pieces for learners to access at their convenience. When learners interact with these highly-targeted learning opportunities repeatedly, content is more easily digested and applied in real-life.

When talking about micro-learning, you’ll also need to get familiar with two concepts: 1) content chunking and 2) micro-commitments.

Content chunking  involves breaking down information into related groups or “chunks” to make it easy for learners to comprehend and remember.

Micro-commitments: rather than expect students to sit down in front of a computer for hours, micro-commitments allow students to engage with your online course various times, for minutes at a time.

At Client Engagement Academy, we break up courses into sub-courses, where students go from white to yellow, to blue, to brown, to black. If you ever did karate as a kid, this concept is probably familiar to you. By breaking up your online course content, you’re giving students a chance to celebrate each time they reach a new level and earn a digital badge.

You can’t just have a large, cumbersome, hourly-long courses built out! Your students need to feel like they’re accomplishing something. Micro-commitments are all about engagement and giving people that “winning” feeling. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t like to win?

Micro-commitments are all about engagement and giving people that “winning” feeling. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t like to win? – Click to tweet

Don’t be fooled by the name, micro-learning has some GIANT and POWERFUL effects. Some of them include:

  • Better content retention. What’s easier, remembering three important names or an entire list of names? If you overload your students with too much information, they won’t know what’s important and what isn’t. Keeping things short and sweet means students can focus on studying and retaining what’s essential to produce an outcome.
  • Increase engagement. People are busy. It’s easier for someone to find 10 minutes in their day to sit down and watch a lesson than it is for them to allocate an entire hour to your course. Just because you keep your lessons short, doesn’t mean your students have to learn at a slower pace. Short units mean students will have the opportunity to log in more frequently.
  • Increased motivation. Ever check something off your to-do list and get a little rush? Having multiple, small units means students will feel a sense of accomplishment more frequently–boosting their mood and motivation.

Read More: How Chunking Helps Content Processing

How to Create Micro-Learning?

So, let’s take the step from theory to practice. Here’s how to apply micro-learning in your online course design:

Start by asking yourself these questions:

  1. What expertise do you have that’s essential (“need to know”) to your target audience?
  2. What content do you think is just “nice to know”?
  3. What’s the minimum your students need to know to produce their objectives?

Then, organize your content by objectives and chunk them into modules. Divide modules into bite-sized related groups of information and these will be the lessons of your course. Keep chunking until all the material is divided into smaller pieces. 

This is a great guide to start learning how to chunk.

There are multiple ways to chunking your content. Some of the most popular ways are by:

  1. Topic
  2. Structure
  3. Sequential Order
  4. Importance
  5. Complexity
  6. Cause and Effect
  7. Mastery

All micro-learning revolves around three major things: 1) keep content succinct, 2) organize content into lessons, topics, points, and 3) keep your content cohesive. Aside from that, how you group your content is dependent on your course material and preference. For the most part, as long as you organize your content, you’re already halfway there.

Recommended reads:

The Power of Chunking: How To Increase Learning Retention

 Why Microlearning Is HUGE and How to Be a Part of It

Why Does it Work?

As we mentioned earlier, a major part of micro-learning is building micro-commitments to keep students actively engaged until they complete your course. Micro-commitments take away all the anxiety and fear out of committing to an online course. They prevent students from feeling overwhelmed or bored. Instead, students will feel more excited to keep up with the coursework. This doesn’t mean they’ll consume less content or learn at a slower pace, but it DOES mean you’re making your course as enjoyable and as intuitive as possible. So, why wouldn’t you want that?

You’ve probably heard someone say, “I can’t bring myself to watch a movie, but I love TV.” (Maybe even you would agree with that statement). It makes sense–not everyone can dedicate 2 hours of their time to watch a movie. 

However, how many times have you or someone you’ve known binge-watched an entire TV series? Maybe you meant to just watch an episode or two, but suddenly, you find yourself unable to stop. Last time I checked, an entire season of Grey’s Anatomy is a lot longer than a single movie. Yet, somehow, TV still seems like way less of a commitment. Why?

It just is…no really, it’s psychology. There’s even a coined phrase called “commitment bias,” which essentially means that once someone has made a small, initial commitment, they’re more likely to follow through with and complete the rest of the process. Think of micro-commitments in your online course like an episode in a TV series. Use commitment bias to your advantage to drive student success and create a more engaged community.

Still not convinced you need to go “micro?”

Well, let me ask you: Did you take a break reading this blog post?

Did you look at your phone? Put down your phone? Stop reading to take care of some other business?

Or maybe you just skimmed through the article. Did you intention scroll past certain points?

If you said “yes” to any of these questions, then you just proved my point. Just like yourself, people want impactful information relevant to them quick and easy. Give your students what they want. Structure your content to work with your clients, rather than against them, and your results will speak for themselves.