“Ain’t nobody got time for that!” Sweet Brown’s declaration during an interview after an apartment fire in Oklahoma City quickly became an Internet sensation. You can find numerous quotes and memes parroting this phrase, conveying dissatisfaction on any subject. How many people have uttered this exact phrase upon their initial reaction to an eLearning lesson?

Designing meaningful and engaging lessons (for any form of delivery, including eLearning) is a task that every good instructional designer seeks to master. Teaching lower-school students is a privilege that quickly makes you realize that the approach you take when conveying an idea is just as important as the idea itself. An approach that I have found most successful is threefold:

  • Be clear and concise
  • Use visuals
  • Excite the imagination.

Since migrating over to the “adult learning” spectrum, I’ve found this strategy to be just as applicable.


Depending on the topic, designing quick and straightforward lessons can be a difficult task. As instructional designers, we often allow the nature of the content to dictate how we construct the delivery. If our content is long and boring, our eLearning product will most likely follow suit. With adult attention spans growing ever shorter, we have grown more accustomed to the perception that something that requires more than 140 characters to express isn’t worth our time or effort.

I’m in no way advocating putting a 140-character limit on lessons, but I do feel that we can do a better job of design, so that eLearning delivers the pertinent content without the fluff. A pruning technique that I find helpful is cutting away filler that falls into the categories of:

1) Common knowledge

2) Over-explained concepts

3) Things that can be conveyed visually

Using visuals is commonplace in instruction. What I find, however, is that the use of visuals is often more a space filler rather than a reinforcement for an idea. With my students, I learned that anytime I introduced a visual aid, whether a picture or prop, everyone’s attention immediately gravitated to that aid. It was almost effortless to keep their attention as I explained the concept. Conversely, I came to realize that the aid itself was just as important to the content as the words. When using visuals for eLearning, I try to answer three questions:

1) Will the content itself draw the learner in visually?

2) Are there any concepts that I can present through pictures?

3) Do the pictures help to reinforce the subject matter? Visuals should be partners with the text, guiding the learner to a contextual construction of the idea the words present.


The most integral, and more than likely the most difficult, piece to the design process is creating learning that stimulates the learner’s imagination. People are inherently drawn to things in which they can make a personal connection. I created a lesson using Curious George to teach Internet safety to a group of first- and second- grade students. I decided to use Curious George because I could use the students’ prior knowledge of the character to my advantage. The instant they saw George, they instinctively made the connection between him and his penchant for mischief. As they progressed through the lesson, they learned the key concepts about Internet safety by seeing what happened to George when he made poor choices while using the Internet. Therefore, if they find themselves facing an Internet safety issue, they can easily think back to the decision George made and the consequence of that decision.

The same approach is just as useful with adult learners. Think about your favorite joke, fairy tale, or news event. I imagine you wouldn’t have much trouble, right now, without missing any of the major detail, in telling it to anyone who cared to listen. The reason you easily remember it is because it has somehow made an emotional or conceptual connection.

Remember the learner

When designing lessons, the most important element I will always keep in mind is the learner. I am constantly asking myself, “Am I designing a lesson that will be an enjoyable experience to be remembered or one that will be clicked through at warp speed and forgotten?” I fear if I ever settle for the latter, I’ll be doing my learners a disservice. And, as we all know, ain’t nobody got time for that!