Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

15 July 2014

Click to learn less

Clark @ 8:06 AM

All too often, when I review content, I see a recurrent interaction. And I really can’t figure out why, except a thorough lack of understanding of learning, and a determination to put interaction in regardless. Click here to learn more.

It’s not just the next button I’m railing about here, but instead that, on a screen, there’ll be n things, tabs, boxes, something, with the instructions to ‘click to learn more’. The point being that information is available but not directly. It appears that the designer has a lot of content to present, and yet just presenting lots of content is obviously wrong, so we’ll make it more interactive by chunking it up and then showing it iteratively with clicks. That’s more interactive, yes?  Yes, and it’s bad. Two problems: the content, and the interactions.

First, if you’ve got so much content to present, it’s a strong indicator that something’s wrong. People aren’t good at remembering large bits of information. They retain gist, not details. If you’re presenting a lot of content, you’re undoubtedly presenting too many details. Put the detail in the world if it has to be accessible. And my guess is that lots of it is ‘nice to have’, not ‘must have’. If it really has to go in the head, you are really going to have to do a lot more than just have them read it, you’ll need drill and kill. Instead, find the core model that predicts the right actions, and have them learn the model. Then give them practice in applying it, which leads to the second problem.  Reading once just isn’t going to have much impact.

Learners should be having meaningful interaction. The learner should be using the content to do something. Which isn’t a click each, it’s a click the right one. It’s making a choice, taking an action, applying the knowledge in context to make a decision. What will make a difference to the organization is not the ability to recite knowledge (leave that to videos, documents, chatbots, what have you), but instead the ability to make better decisions.

You can do the ‘reveal’ in certain circumstances, such as to present an example: present the initial situation, then reveal to show the complication, then reveal to show the solution, and the results. (Here’s the story: click here to see the problem that arose, click here to see the alternatives considered, click here to see the decision made, click here to see the consequences). So, it might be a somewhat engaging way to present an example, but good writing would trump that. Or you might have alternative actions and click to see the consequences of that action. Which wouldn’t make sense if there were a right answer, or you should immediately be getting them to first commit to a choice and then provide feedback.

Where does this come from? I think it comes from the fact that Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) don’t have access to most of what they actually do, but they do have access to all they know, so they tend to put out information. There are processes to get around this, but designers have to have the gumption to stand up to knowledge dump on the part of the SMEs and fight to find out how that information is used. It’s not necessarily easy (though it gets easier with practice), but it is necessary.

So, please, avoid the ‘click here to learn more’ and instead look for ‘click here to choose an action to take’.


  1. I agree. About 15 years ago my team put this to the test, creating versions of the same content (information about the solar system) in 7 different formats ranging from plain text through to flash versions incorporating audio, video & interactive elements. Students were allowed the same time (30 mins) with each format and asked to take a test of recall. There was no significant difference in recall, though students using the text-only version did slightly better on average. They did, however, like the interactive version more. For the same reasons people prefer face-to-face training over elearning: they conflate entertainment with learning and interaction can provide some basic entertainment value (for both learner and purchaser) whilst actually detracting from the learning itself. But – as you point out – the context is the critical factor: if you’re basically wasting peoples’ time by dumping useless information on them, then ‘spicing things up’ with some interaction may feel like the right thing to do. To make the same point in a different way: if I’m using Google to figure something out, the last thing I want is interaction – I just want the answer.

    Comment by nick shackleton-jones — 15 July 2014 @ 9:04 AM

  2. Nick, great input. I might not expect learners to know what is good for them, but I would hope designer would know better. Sadly, it appears not to be the case in far too many situations.

    Comment by Clark — 16 July 2014 @ 11:21 AM

  3. “What will make a difference to the organization is not the ability to recite knowledge, but instead the ability to make better decisions.” – Absolutely agree on this and love your ‘call to action’, Clark. From our experience at Learnnovators, one of the most effective models that could help learning designers achieve this (meaningful interactions) is Cathy Moore’s ‘Action Mapping’.

    Comment by Santhosh Kumar — 21 July 2014 @ 11:02 PM

  4. I think I might be guilty of some of this kind of “activity” in some recent work and I’m consoling myself by saying that I was forced into the constraints of the content by the primary stakeholder. While I would prefer a more “activity-driven” series of assets, the terminal objective is at the knowledge/recall level. So, instead of large chunks of text (e-reading) about specific aviation components, I’m driving the content through a more visual approach, showing an image of the components, with click-to-reveal actions.

    So, it’s not what I’d prefer to do – or even what really should be done – but that Time-Cost-Quality triad is going to have a very short leg on this initiative.

    Comment by Mark Sheppard — 22 July 2014 @ 7:14 AM

  5. Mark, understood, and spatially oriented visual to help cement the components in context isn’t a bad step. It’s just that giving them the conceptually related role of the components, and a task processing them in some meaningful way, is a step more. And, yes, unrealistic expectations on development time is an artifact of unrealistic views of learning (that spray and pray will lead to any meaningful change in behavior).

    Comment by Clark — 22 July 2014 @ 8:03 AM

  6. I too would echo in with Mark and in the past have often found myself a victim of the Time-Cost-Quality triad. Converting content dumps to interactive ‘clicks’ became the sole foundation on which we ended built courseware.

    However, linking each course to the organization’s performance objectives proved to be a game changer for us. Ever since Instructional Design has become more meaningful rather than some ‘click-to-reveal’ posters screaming for engagement attention!

    This post has been awesome and has in many ways contributed towards strengthening our quest to tighten the learning around the core context of the training.

    Comment by Ruby Pearl Nathan — 24 July 2014 @ 3:22 AM

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