Shorter, Quicker, Dumber

eLearning Design

UI/UX Designer

There’s a blissful ignorance that surrounds us and operates our decisions in this head-spin racing world. Especially in business. We’re head over heels for new tech and unseen possibilities, for amazing discoveries and broken limits. It’s all good, but it’s governed by a dopamine rush that never lets us back off and ponder intently on the bigger picture. We slave away to trends and willfully choose to stay in a state of novelty dizziness. This observation of mine stems from other places as the messed up music industry and the editorial control stifling the writer to a squeeze, but is very applicable to eLearning to boot.

In an attempt to offer something new, to expand our audience and cover every ground uncovered, we regurgitate the simplicity formula and use it as an excuse to make things shorter, quicker and dumber. But simplicity has its limits. I used to look up to Einstein's famous quote “Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.” and mantrasize its divineness, never realizing that the actually profound part lies in its last three words. The fact that simplicity should not be a goal, but a form of art. We blame it all on the ‘newly developed’ shrunk attention span, on the dynamic lives we live, on the multitasking demands and the ever fleeting father time. But we’re missing the point. Not every rock can be crunched to a diamond and more importantly, not every rock should be crunched to a diamond.

There’s this joke I think of when I play with the notion of simplicity - you probably know that drums are usually the loudest part of any band or orchestra and notoriously most drummers don’t shy away from hitting hard and ample decibels. So it goes like this - the conductor comes to the rehearsal and starts the count - “Two, three… Aaaand stop, stop, stop. Dave, your drums are so loud, man - could you bring it down a notch.” Sure, Dave did, but the second try went like this “Two, three… Aaaand stop, stop, stop. Dave, still quite loud, dude!”. Then a third time after which demotivated Dave just pretended to play the drums without making a sound. The rehearsal went “fine” and on their way out the conductor approached Dave with the words “It wasn’t too bad, but tomorrow if you could bring it juuust a wee bit down it would be perfect.”

So I’m thinking - how exactly shorter, quicker and dumber do we have to make our eLearning before it’s an entirely different piece? Where’s the perfect balance? How thin exactly can we weave Ariadne’s thread before it breaks and the learner walking it goes home with nothing? Or even worse - with wasted time. It is a balancing act. And it’s supposed to be - like anything good in life. So let’s not blindly pour so many eggs in the “simplicity” basket. It’s the wrong target I think. How about we spend more time devising a better structure, a wilder plot, a funny twist, a thought-provoking game. Then we wouldn't have to worry about short attention spans and racing clocks. Of course no one wants to endure a boring story in a boring environment told by boring actors. Of course our attention lashes wildly against the bars of its cage and the second hand on our wrist is hypnotizing. But we wouldn't want a good movie to end quickly, a good book to be short or a good story to be dumbed down.

There’s nothing wrong with us. We’re perfectly capable of being captured and enamored. So let’s stop making everything shorter, quicker and dumber, and use simplicity as an excuse. Because it’s almost never the answer. Because I don’t think that’s what Albert meant.

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