“You can’t put limits on creativity!”

Or can you?

Artists and other creative professionals everywhere might cringe at the thought, but some of the best creative work comes from the bounds of finite resources.

eLearning design and development is a great example of this. Every day instructional designers, content creators and developers are asked to create impactful work without much in the way of information or resources. Especially for professionals new to the learning and development (L&D) industry, it can be discouraging working with what feels like so little.

Yes, there are people in our field that think putting limits on creativity stifles the effectiveness of a learning solution. But the reality is that things like time, money and other resources are always limited. The key is to fully optimize your available resources by finding the balance between production efforts and learning outcomes. To do that, you need to put structure around materials and time in the creative process.

A Cautionary Tale of Unbridled Creativity

Years ago, an executive of a large regional retail grocery chain wanted his training team to create a 3D simulation game to teach employees how to work ergonomically and properly bag groceries. He wanted this no matter the time and no matter the cost. He was hell-bent on creating this amazing work of eLearning ingenuity.

Regardless of my cautioning that the cost and effort to produce such a solution, while certainly cool and cutting-edge, may not have the desired outcomes — the project moved forward, and the 3D game was produced.

It cost them close to half a million dollars. It was impressive — super sleek and full of great game mechanics. It was a true achievement … or it would have been if it had worked.

In the years since its launch, cashiers still bag groceries incorrectly (e.g., raw meat with produce, overloading bags) and don’t follow the recommendations to work ergonomically. To top it off, a lot of the employees that I’ve talked to barely remember anything about the training.

This is a great example of what can happen when you let creativity drive resources instead of the other way around. When you don’t optimize your resources, you can easily overspend for something that won’t work.

How to Optimize Resources and Keep Your Creative Side Happy

Creativity is counterintuitive. It can feel wrong to put limitations on it, but sometimes well-defined boundaries breed the most creative work.

It’s all about creating the best work you can with what you have. Well-optimized resources help you define useful boundaries — and create effective eLearning.

It Starts with Changing Your Creative Mindset

If you want to produce creative eLearning content under limited resources, it all comes down to your mindset. This can be a challenge, especially for new professionals looking to cut their teeth in the eLearning industry. But here are three blunt tips for changing your mindset:

  1. Stop Wishing for Things You Don’t Have.

Simple. You may not have the time, money or tools you want. But you must create something anyway, so focus on what you can make with what you have.

  1. Stay Focused on Engagement.

Always prioritize what gets people to take and complete an eLearning. Engagement can be a loose term, but the point here is to be intentional about the elements you include. Make sure you’re not just including something for the sake of including it.

  1. Focus on Changing Behavior.

The goal of eLearning is more than just informing. It’s about changing a target behavior at the end of the day. Make sure your content is focused on getting people to change their behavior.

How to Make Better elearning Content with Fewer Resources

In the process of optimizing your resources, you may find that you’ll be working with less than you had originally planned. It can feel frightening at first but fear not: There are ways around it, and you might end up with better, more effective eLearning content.

Here are some quick tips to help you get the most out of your resources:

  1. Look For Inspiration From Outside Sources.

The internet is endlessly useful when it comes to finding inspiration. And the best part is, internet searches are free. If you’re ever stuck, there’s bound to be someone who has either been in your situation or has done the work you need to see to give you that next great idea.

Never be above looking for help or looking at other sources.

  1. Repurpose

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel here. If you’ve done something before, then use the work that you’ve done.

Let’s say a point-and-click game you made for one eLearning will work for another. Perfect! Drag and drop it in your latest project. Just be sure to change the content and graphic style if need be.

  1. Stay True to Your Toolbox.

If you already have access to the right authoring tools, then there’s no need to go looking for the next best thing. Again, this is all about working with what you’ve got.

Don’t get blinded by the possibility of using better functionality. Instead, focus on the functionalities you have and create the best content you can with them. Only get that new software if you absolutely need that new functionality.

  1. Have a Defined Work Structure That’s Efficient and Cost-effective.

Have a process and a workflow and stick to it. Not every project is the same, but you can tackle most projects with the same framework around the process if it’s well defined.

I use a combination of ADDIE and Agile frameworks. And in that process, I know what I am working on, how long I have to work on it, and the resources I will have to do my job – each and every time. All of that saves time and money, and it gives creative producers clearly defined parameters for them to fully flex their creativity.

The result is better eLearning content.

Resources and Creativity: They Were Friends All Along

At the end of the day, limited resources and creativity don’t have to be opposites. In fact, you can use the boundaries of fewer resources to create effective and impactful content with a better return on investment (ROI). Once you embrace the challenge and the constraints, your creative side will thank you, and your clients will be happy too.