Two people happily looking at a tablet

Stimulating Learning with Content Variety

In a recent webinar and white paper, Donald Taylor, Chairman of the Learning and Performance Institute, challenged learning and development (L&D) professionals to rethink how they approached corporate training. In fact, he notes that L&D may be spending time on things that have a negligible or even negative impact on helping individuals improve their performance at their current or future work.

For example, designing a comprehensive set of competencies covering every role is not only an immensely time-consuming task, it is unlikely ever to finish, as the demands of individual roles change. Furthermore, L&D departments often waste time focusing on the wrong things in materials design, such as adding flourishes that do not add to the learning experience as well as imposing uniformity across learning materials.This is not only a time consuming activity, it is potentially detrimental to learning.


Mr. Taylor goes back to our evolution from early days of living off the earth and contends that our human minds have the following characteristics:

● Our primary sense is visual;

● We pay attention to change – particularly visually;

● Learning from experience comes naturally, other learning needs us to pay attention.


As a result, the challenge for today’s L&D professionals is how to attract attention towards what we want people to learn, when our unconscious mind would often rather do something else. And once there, how to maintain that attention in a way that helps our minds learn, naturally, despite the distractions of the modern world.

To start, the most important thing we can do is to provide content that meets the learner’s needs. This is why strongly-motivated employees learn happily from Google searches, from checklists, and from YouTube videos. This content is not usually presented neatly, but the form matters less than the function as long as the course or content helps them learn what they need to know.

How can we maintain motivation and make the content naturally appealing? Our visual sense requires learning to grab our attention, and the materials should also be differentiated from each other. This is typically at odds with the view of many designers and those in L&D who focus more on the visual appeal of materials than on their visual differentiation. Research shows that a variation in the context of the learner makes a substantial difference to the learning. This underlines the need for variation in the presentation of learning content.


Variation in the presentation of learning content, then, is good learning practice. Despite this, L&D continue to yearn for uniformity in presentation across learning content. If we look at other forms of content, this desire is misplaced. In a library, are all books the same length, size and format? They may not even all be of the same language. Look at YouTube, where a vast amount of content exists in a range of lengths and production values.

As with all content, the thing that matters most is usefulness. Similar to a library or YouTube, the content can be different formats, making practically no difference to the organization’s employees. They will not see a suite of content. They will see a useful solution to what they need to achieve at that moment. What they will not see is what that the variation will actually aid retention of what they learn.

To learn more about how you can stimulate learning through content variety, download Donald’s white paper below or watch the webinar recording here.