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How Constraints Can Help You Design a Better Course

A common mistake made by new course creators is including too much content in their courses.

More doesn’t necessarily means better.

As a designer of courses, especially online courses, understanding constraints can help you design a better course.

You may be familiar with term: “Seven plus or minus two.”

This refers to pieces of information that we as individuals can effectively process at any one time.

Knowing this will help you decide what type of content to include in your online course. There are effectively three types of content:

Extraneous content. This is content that may not be directly relevant to the topic. Some course creators include extraneous content as a way to set the context for the course.

Others, may do so just to fluff up their course content. In any case, you must minimize extraneous content in your online course.

Essential content. This refers to the baseline content that must be shared in order for your learner to understand the topic.

It represents the core material for the course. As an example, if you were conducting an online course on using LinkedIn, you must discuss:

  • Profile picture
  • Headline
  • Profile summary
  • Connections
  • Messaging
  • Sharing of content

Generative content. This is the content that will differentiate your course from others. Generative content has the ability to get your learners to dive deeper into the topic.

It has the ability to get your learners to challenge their assumptions and beliefs. It also has the ability to get your learners to construct their own knowledge and understanding of the topic.

In summary, here’s what you can do, via Clark and Mayer:

Three goals for instructional designers are to create instructional environments that minimize extraneous cognitive processing, manage essential processing, and foster generative processing.