Imagine that you’ve been tasked with creating a six-hour online learning experience for employees. You head to the first meeting excited. You take a deep breath before entering the room and think, “Mmm, the smell of a new project!” Ten minutes later, you’re staring at a SharePoint folder with over 200 items in it, all of which your client wants included in the training that isn’t supposed to exceed six hours. Before you sputter out, “Wait … what?” you stop for a moment and ask yourself, “What should I do?”

For the project to succeed, you know you’ll have to help your client make some tough choices to cull the content to a more reasonable size. It’s not easy, especially when your client(s) may very well be the author(s) of the very content that needs to be cut. What should you tell them … that their content doesn’t spark joy? You think to yourself, “There’s no way this is going to end well.”

Although situations such as these may seem daunting to the learning leader, knowing what questions to ask — before you begin a project — will ensure the training is palatable for stakeholders and a valuable experience for learners.

Instead of focusing on what content needs to be cut, try brainstorming ways to make the existing content more efficient. By efficient, I mean content that will have the highest impact on your learners and, ultimately, the business.

Ask yourself — and your stakeholders — these five basic, but essential, questions to determine what type of content your learning initiatives need to succeed:

  • Is the content directly relevant to the goals of the business, the learning initiative and, most importantly, the learner?

If the content is not relevant to all three of these goals, toss it! Beware of content masquerading as relevant. If a piece of content is described as a “supporting document,” it isn’t relevant. Toss it. If a piece of content is one of those “meta” learning items that talks about how important the training is, or tries to justify it in any way, toss it! In fact, toss everything that isn’t relevant to learners in their current job role. In contrast, if there is a two-minute video featuring the division’s vice president talking about the learning experience and asking for learner buy-in, keep it!

  • Which learning objectives are better served by learner collaboration, feedback and real-world application?

Intrepid recently asked learners what they wanted from L&D. When asked what types of L&D opportunities they valued most, the majority of learners said collaborative learning. Creating activities that allow learners to make a personal connection with the learning, while also doing their job and collaborating with others, is key in creating an efficient, high-impact learning experience. Further, these activities can often partially or completely replace existing content.

  • Do you have the connectors?

You may have 200 pieces of content neatly grouped into exquisite microlearning bits. However, if you don’t provide connections linking these bits of content together, they won’t achieve the impact you’re hoping for. In the article, “This Is Your Brain on Learning,” Britt Andreatta, former chief learning officer at and author of “Wired to Resist: The Brain Science of Why Change Fails and a New Model for Driving Success” is interviewed and shares that “microlearning demands even more thought about how you weave between the chunks of learning so there is a cohesive and effective journey to change learners’ knowledge, beliefs and behaviors.” My colleagues and I refer to this as “grouting” — those pieces of content that add context for the learner like grout holding together tiles. This contextual content allows the learner to come up for air and better understand the connection between various content pieces. Ultimately, without connectors, microlearning is more of a mish-mash than a modality.

  • Would the business goals be better served if you allowed learners to come to understand a concept through their real work life instead of just giving them a piece of content?

This is a tough question to ask. It requires you to trust your learners. It means pointing adult learners in the right direction, allowing them to draw their own conclusions. For example, imagine a leadership class where you have covered different types of communication to help foster team cohesiveness. Instead of reinforcing the content through videos or PowerPoints designed to drill in its importance, what if you proved its importance through an on-the-job activity? Consider the following example:

Now that you have learned these different communication skills, see how many of them you can use this week when interacting with your team. At the end of the week, come back and discuss what you learned and experienced. Share what happened when you used these communication skills with other members of the class.

Guided activities allow learners to collaborate with others and, ultimately, see the learning’s impact on their job performance firsthand — which is far more powerful than just about any video or PowerPoint presentation.

  • Are the class learning objectives helping or hurting your task of editing down the content?

Learning objectives that declare what learners should know by the end of a learning experience make culling content difficult. After all, shouldn’t learners always know more? This mindset is what results in those 20 extra links and five extra documents within a learning experience. It’s important to remember that more content doesn’t necessarily mean more results.

So, how can learning leaders create valuable learning experiences with less content? It starts with assessing what business goals the training should support: What business impact do stakeholders need the training to achieve? In other words, by the end of the class, what do business stakeholders want learners to go do, change and/or feel? These objectives should be specific, not written as, “Objective: Learners will use x, y and z sales techniques,” but as, “Objective: After this class, learners will use the ‘x’ technique one hour before an initial sales call because they see it as vital to their job.” Once you specify the training’s objectives, you can then determine what content can best help learners reach them — and any obstacles they may face along the way.

Ultimately, impactful learning requires more than relevant content. Learners need to be receptive to the learning, recognizing the value they will see in return for their time in the class. Ideally, this process should start before the class begins and be re-iterated throughout the learning experience.

So, when asking your stakeholders key questions pertaining to the learning content, don’t forget to ask about the actual learners, too: Are they new to their jobs, the company or the subject of the training in general? If you are asking them to change, will they be receptive to the idea? Do they need to break old habits, or break through entrenched team dynamics? The answers to these questions will not only guide which content you ultimately choose to incorporate in your training initiatives, but also remain a key resource in how you make meaningful connections for learners.

To design a truly effective learning experience, start by asking the questions outlined in this article. Doing so may even spark a few of your own questions related to your company’s specific goals. Armed with this information, you can enjoy that “new project smell” from start to finish.