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ATD Blog

Managing Information Overload


Wed Jul 11 2012

Managing Information Overload

Twenty-five different PowerPoint presentations. Seven reference manuals. Eight previous training courses. This kind of information would seem a dream to many technical course developers normally starved for adequate information for their training courses. But the grass is not always greener on the other side. Having too much information can be just as challenging as having too little information. A glut of unnecessary info can harm the potential for learning during your course.

What can you do if you are experiencing information overload in your own training project?


Post the objectives on your forehead

Objectives are always a necessary and important component to every course. But the objectives move to an even further level of significance when you have a ton of content. It can be tempting to want to put every piece of information that exists into your course. Unfortunately, time constraints don’t usually allow for this. Use your objectives to:

  • Clarify your content

  • Keep you on track

  • Help you decide what information is relevant

A good rule of practice is to write your course objectives on a card and then tape this card by your computer as you work. Each time you create a PowerPoint slide, an exercise, or page of documentation, you should be able to relate that item to one of your listed objectives. Having the objectives right in front of you helps remind you of the “nice to know” information versus “need to know” information. Ditch the “nice to know” and cultivate the “need to know.”

Edit. Then edit. And edit. And edit.

The importance of sifting through the content cannot be underestimated. When you have information overload on a topic, it can be hard to maintain discipline about what you need. Additionally, when a subject matter expert sees information that is there, suddenly that information can seem important, even if it otherwise wouldn’t be. (It’s sort of the opposite of "out of sight, out of mind.") So start planning editing sessions. And after you have had an initial “cut” of material, plan second and third culling sessions if necessary. Edit your content to manage information overload.

Identify stakeholders

With information overload, there are likely to be lots of potentially interested parties. This is a double edged sword; where there are lots of people you could possibly go to for information; there are also a lot of agendas, and maybe even egos at play. Navigate carefully, and identify the stakeholders for the version of the project that you are tasked with creating. Craft the information around the objectives that the stakeholders have set.


At some point, you need to stop gathering information and letting in new sources. You need to revisit your course objectives and then determine whether you have enough information included that will effectively meet the course objectives. And then you must stop. When you have an overload of information, it can be difficult to say "enough is enough." But you must do this or you will never be able to finalize the content and the course.


Review the overall flow.

When you have information that you have deleted, edited, and sifted through, it is important that at some point you step back and take in the entire picture. Check to see that all of the different sections of the course are covered appropriately, with enough time and with enough interactivity. Then check your overall flow. Verify that transitions between sections make sense, and then write them out, either in your facilitator’s notes and/or in the PowerPoint slides. You want to make certain that the content flows in a way that is obvious and beneficial to learners.

Managing information overload is important to effectively developing training. If you cut the clutter and get to the point, your learners will surely benefit.

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