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What you Leave Out is as Important as What you Put In

As instructional designers, we spend a lot of time focusing on what we put into our learning experiences. What about what we leave out?

We receive a stack of information and need to somehow communicate it to our learners. Hundreds of words, documents, policies and resources can become overwhelming. We have been there and we know what the curse of too much information feels like. From both an instructional design perspective and as a learner.

Think about a time when someone has given you too much information. You wanted a solution to a problem and suddenly you are stuck listening to a long explanation that lost your interest and understanding within the first 10 minutes (#what). 

One of the most powerful lessons that our team of instructional designers has learnt is to determine what information can be left out. Not all of the information that you are given to create a learning experience will add value or change behaviour (despite what your stakeholders tell you).

In this blog we are going to show you how you can leave out unnecessary information and in turn create an impactful learning solution that changes behaviour.

1. Become Clear on your Project Goal

The first thing that you need to do is become very clear on the goal that you are trying to achieve. Our team achieves this by holding a creative conversation with our project stakeholders (e.g. Human Resources (HR), budget controllers, Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) and end-users).

In this creative conversation we discuss:

  • The desired user experience
  • What is important to the business
  • What is important to the user
  • The current pain points
  • The ultimate goal

This enables us to collectively decide on a project goal. For example, ‘leaders to hold effective and timely performance conversations’.

2. Identify the Need to Know Information

‘Need to know’ information is the information that will help you meet your project goal. To do this, have your project goal visible and as you are going through your information, continually ask yourself, ‘Will this information help me meet my project goal of X?’. If it will not, leave it out.

For example, if your project goal is for ‘leaders to hold effective and timely performance conversations’, a policy about bullying and harassment may not be ‘need to know’ information.

3. Manage Your Stakeholders

You may come across situations where stakeholders, such as SMEs, think the information that you take out should be put back in. Do not discount their opinion but do challenge their assumptions. Ask, ‘How will this information help us meet the project goal of X?’. If the information they want to include does not help you meet the project goal, enable them to understand that for themselves through your questioning.

That is it for this blog. We hope that you gained insight into the importance of the information that you leave out. From our perspective, this part of the instructional design process can make or break the success of your learning solution.

Lastly, shout out to one of our team mate’s body wash bottles. The statement ‘what we leave out is as important as what we put in’ (Palmolive, 2020) was the inspiration for this blog. Funny how your best ideas happen in the shower 😉.


Palmolive. (2020). Palmolive Naturals. In possession of author.

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