How to Use Tiny Ideas for Easy Learning

As we know, tiny ideas are great because they give learners actionable advice.

Instead of making learners feel overwhelmed by a long list of learning points, you give them one key learning point plus detailed guidance and examples of how to implement this point.

Map out your tiny ideas

Questions are a useful tool for mapping out a Modlette.  Consider the questions that the training will answer, but also think about the questions your ideal learner would ask about this subject.

The following questions may help you generate some ideas...

Questions are often the most useful tool for mapping out a microlearning Modlette.  So, a Modlette about a tiny idea can be a series of answers on tiny questions, but you can also turn it into a collection of examples or other useful resources.

To write a cohesive, helpful Modlette remember that the resources or answers to tiny questions together help transform your learner’s life.  Don’t lose sight of how your Modlette will help your learner reach an aim or solve a problem (their happy destination).

Add substance to your main idea

Examples, data, and quotes are all ways to add substance to your tiny idea.  Examples are often your biggest help in turning your tiny main idea into a valuable training Modlette.

And, if you let your idea percolate for a while, you can use this time to collect examples, data, and quotes for inclusion in your Modlette.

How to Write Great Learning More Quickly

Good examples make abstract learning points concrete so learners can understand your advice and apply it to their own situation.  In addition, they make the reading experience richer and more rewarding.

But searching for examples can take a lot of time, so today I will share 4 tactics to save time and produce a valuable Modlette with great, believable examples and much quicker.

  1. Create an archive

I’m not really good at filing or archiving things.  I tend to think “that’s interesting.  I’ll remember that for future use”.  Within no time the “interesting thing” has faded away and I’ve forgotten it until I see somebody else used it.   But I do highlight really interesting stuff and hope that I remember which book or magazine it was in.

If you want to adopt a more structured approach, it can help to brainstorm example ideas so you know what kind of examples and quotes to look out for, and you can tag them so they’re easy to find.  You can create a collection in a Word or Google document or use a tool like Evernote.

2. Use your imagination

Sometimes (more often than not), I make up examples.  For instance, when I want to explain the difference about features and benefits in a sales Modlette, I make up a story about a young salesperson in an audio store… how he baffled his customer with technical features, and how be became more persuasive when he translated those technical features into benefits that suited his customer’s needs. I could imagine that story happening as I’ve been to buy audio equipment and had conversations with young difficult sales people, but it was mostly made up.

My preference is to use real examples, but I don’t want to spend too much time on looking for good examples so if I don’t have them already available, and I can’t find them quickly, I make up my own.

3. Speed up your writing process

You can speed up your writing process a lot if you know which examples you want to use before you start writing your first draft.  The same is true for using quotes.  Of course, the writing process isn’t always that structured.  While writing your draft, you may be reminded of a quote you read somewhere that would perfectly fit in your narrative.  Or perhaps you may find that an example you had intended to use doesn’t fit as well as you had thought.  If that happens, don’t interrupt the writing process to look for another example as it’s easy to lose your train of thought and get distracted by other ideas.  That’s how it becomes hard to finish a first draft.

It's often much quicker to finalise your first draft, and just make notes where an example or quote is missing.  After you’ve written your first draft you can add the missing pieces.

4. Examples make your Modlette more memorable

Examples often linger in your learner’s minds.  After all, examples are the most vivid part of your training narrative.

So, it’s worth your effort to use these 4 tactics:

  1. Create an archive
  2. Use your imagination
  3. Speed up your writing process
  4. Use good examples

Promote Readability with Short and Broken Sentences

This subhead promises a benefit: that you’ll learn how to make your learning narrative more readable, which is one step towards the happy destination of writing engaging eLearning copy.  The subhead may also arouse curiosity as readers may not know what broken sentences have to do with readability.

Broken sentences?

Your high school teacher did not approve of using broken sentences.  But in high school, you learned a more academic way of writing.  Writing for eLearning is different.  Writing for eLearning needs to be easy to read.  Your learners don’t want to make an effort to read your content.

Short sentences are much easier to read than long, spiritless sentences.

The opening sentence (shown above) explains the key learning point in general terms.  I also mention the high school teacher because it’s often the biggest objection to using short and broken sentences.  I also remind Modlette designers that they’re not writing to please their high school teacher but to engage learners . . . this is a reminder of the happy destination.

Let’s have a look at Apple’s sales copy as a great example of how to write engaging narrative.

Apple copywriters don’t worry about starting a sentence with And or But.  They do it quite often:

It doesn’t seem possible (,,,).  But it is.  It’s our thinnest display ever.  And it’s the first of its kind.

And that’s just for starters.

Shorter sentences are easier to read and easier to understand.  And short sentences also improve he rhythm of copy.  Apple even uses one-word sentences:

All-new Lightning Connector.  Smaller.  Smarter.  Durable.  Reversible.

The examples in this section help show how the abstract advice of broken sentences works in practice.  This helps learners to see how they can apply the learning to their own situation, even if their situation is slightly different.

Using examples is key in creating a rich and rewarding learning experience.  Examples help learners understand what you are trying to teach them, and they also add colour to your writing.  They are probably the most important type of glue to keep learners engaged.

Next there’s a comment on the examples:

The staccato rhythm of one-word sentences helps draw attention to each individual word.  In contrast, the style you learned in high school is much weaker: All-new lightning connector: smaller, smarter, durable and reversible.

Can you hear the difference in rhythm when you read it aloud?

The iPhone 5 web pages have an average sentence length of 10.9, 11.9, and 14.0 words.  That’s very good.  And very readable.  This commentary confirms to learners what they’ve learned from examples.

Your opening paragraph has made learners keen to engage in your learning so they can travel to a happy destination to attain confidence in their performance.

But even if learners are keen to learn more, they’re still easily distracted, so you still have to keep them engaged throughout your Modlette. 

You can keep learners engaged with 4 types of glue:

  1. Seeds of Curiosity:  Curiosity is a powerful human emotion, and I don’t mean gossipy stuff.  Curiosity is also about a wish to learn and get answers to questions.
  2. Reminders of the happy destination:  The happy destination explains to learners why a learning point matters to them and why completing your Modlette is worthy of their time.
  3. Examples:  Examples are the sport stars in your writing.  They help learners visualise your advice, making it easier to implement your learning.  They make the reading experience rich and rewarding, and by selecting examples from your own experiences, you add personality to your writing.
  4. Clinchers:  At the end of a section clinchers summarise the learning points and encourage learners to apply the learning point to their own situation.  Clinchers remind learners how much they are learning from you.

How to use Seeds of Curiosity

Seeds of curiosity can also be short statements that encourage people to read on; such statements are often followed by an ellipsis:

So it’s perfectly fine to use only your subheads.  To arouse curiosity and make people read on.  But if you like, you can also use short questions and short statements (like above) to arouse curiosity and keep learners captivated.

Vickie finished her opening last week by promising Karl that she can teach him how to engage his audience which is his happy destination.

And of course, as Karl has been promised a happy destination, he now wants to know more.

Now Vickie transitions to the next step in her introduction with a question, “Shall I Explain?”

Karl finds himself nodding yes.  Of course, he wants to know more.  He’s now ready to explore the learning part of Vickie’s Modlette.

Vickie’s revised opening may seem long as we reviewed it but it was actually only 106 words.

The Structure of the Captivate Opening:

The structure of this opening is relatively simple:

The objective of the opening is not to summarise the Modlette.  The opening should encourage your ideal learner to start working in your Modlette so they can reach your learning objectives.

Next week I’ll introduce you to 2 types of opening lines that invited your learners into the next narrative.

Before you write your opening you have to consider the purpose of your training, in this case Karl’s problem is that his audience gets bored when he’s presenting financials.  So, you’ll determine first:

After defining the problem and the happy destination, Vickie has written a new opening:

We’ve all been there. You’ve worked hours over your presentation.

You’ve carefully selected the highlights of the annual report.  You’ve kept your slides simple.

But when presenting your colleagues look bored.  One is even yawning.

You are so frustrated.  And you can’t help wondering how the hell you can engage an audience of line managers with a financial presentation.  How can you engage them?  And get them to understand the impact of their actions?

You are starting to think it’s impossible. But it doesn’t have to be so difficult.  Use these tips and you will be the star presenter of financial results.

Let’s Analyse Vickie’s Opening

Karl reads on because he wants to know where we’ve all been.  The sentence has aroused curiosity.  The first sentence is an invitation for learners to start the Modlette, it’s like opening the door and inviting the learner into your home.

Karl recognises this scene that Vickie has sketched.  He always works for hours to try and perfect his presentations and does his best to create simple slides.

You are so frustrated.  And you can’t help wondering how the hell you can engage an audience of line managers with a financial presentation.  How can you engage them?  And get them to understand the impact of their actions?

You are starting to think it’s impossible, Karl recognises this description of his struggle with engaging audiences.  This is gold.  He feels understood, and that’s why he continues the Modlette.

But it doesn’t have to be so difficult, next week I’ll share with you the seven tips you can follow to captivate your audience. .. even if they are not really interested in finance. Earlier articles about writing for eLearning can be found

We are going to look at a simple formula for writing an opening to your narrative so irresistible that people like your ideal learner will feel compelled to continue.

What’s a good opening?

A good opening engages learners and entices them to continue with your Modlette.

You do this by fulfilling your first two roles as a trainer.

  1. Empathise with your learner . . . tell him or her that you understand their concerns or frustrations, and you sit down with them to help them.
  2. Point to the happy destination . . . tell your learner how their life will improve if they follow and implement your learning.

Why Vickie’s Original opening doesn’t work:

Vickie has decided to write a training eLearning for Karl, her ideal learner.  This is her opening paragraph:

There are many different ways to present financials.  Probably more than you thinkOf course, you can use just text or you can create a few quick graphs using Excel. But wouldn’t it be much nicer to create original graphs?”

There are some problems with this paragraph:

Next week we’ll show you how to rewrite this opening to grab Karl’s attention.

The examples below show simple maps for training we might use with Modlettes.

Each map clarifies the journey from the problem to the happy destination, and it sets the boundaries for what’ll be covered in your training.

The first example shows a map using questions.  The second shows a map using bullet points.

  1. Using questions to create a map.

Example:  How to keep cucumbers fresh

Problem:  Cucumbers wilt too quickly

Happy Destination:  Keep your cucumbers fresh for longer.


You can use questions to outline almost any training intervention.

What, why and how are the most commonly asked questions in training.  These questions are often a good starting point when creating a map for your training.

There isn’t just one correct map.  When traveling from one place to another, there are always different routes to take.  Some routes may be slightly longer than others, but they still get you to the same destination.  With Modlettes it’s the same.  Different designers may create different maps to guide their learners to the same happy destination.

Example:  How to support a remote team

Problem:  Lack of motivation in the team, team members feeling disconnected.

Happy Destination: Make your team feel motivated even if they work remotely.


You can use bullet points to map out your Modlette, no matter which topic you are covering.  Bullet points work especially well when you’re mapping out a pre-training or post-training Modlette.  These might contain a series of tips or a collection of helpful resources (e.g. exercises, templates, quotes, diagrams, trends, recommended reading).

You can mix questions and bullet points when mapping out the journey to the happy destination.  The map is a tool to structure your training.  Use it the way it works for you.

With the introduction of these 4 roles, you will see what it needs to encourage your learners to read, and implement your learning.

As we’ve seen, good trainers are on a mission to help learners meet their challenges, solve their problems, and achieve their aims.  You are a mentor or guide for your readers; and a good mentor has to play 4 roles.

Role 1 : Empathise

Imagine your learner and how he’s stuck in an unhappy place.  His boss has asked him to do something and he’s unsure how to go about it.

The first thing you do as a good mentor is to emphathise with your ideal learners.  You tell them you understand their fears and frustrations, you know they’re unhappy to be stuck; you understand they want to travel to a happier place.  You put your arm around your learners’ shoulder, and you tell them:  “I hear you, I see you.”

When learners feel you understand them, they’re more likely to listen to your advice and what you can teach them.

Role 2:  Point them to a happy destination

The next thing you do as a good mentor is give your learner hope.  You point out that the happy destination exists, where they’ll feel happy, more relaxed, confident and more productive or better in any other way.

You tell your learner that you can lead them to that happy destination.  Your Modlette will help make their life better . . . you’ll help them reach a goal, solve a problem, or meet their boss’s challenge.  That’s why they want to complete your Modlette.

Next week:  Roles 3 and 4.

Method 3:

Mind maps can help generate ideas and understand relations between ideas.  To create a mind map, you start with one idea and then plot how other ideas connect.

To create a mindmap, you keep asking yourself:

What else is connected to this idea?

Vickie wants to create a Modlette about using drawings or images in business communication, and she’s created a mind map by thinking about the use of drawings in business.  The issues she’d like to discuss include:

A mindmap encourages us to expand our boundaries and add more ideas to our Modlette.

When you look at Vickie’s mindmap, you may already get the feeling that she has too many ideas for one Modlette about each of these six ideas.

In my Modlette design experience, I’ve found that the biggest challenge for designers is often to keep the Modlette focussed – to narrow down an idea and actually deliver valuable learning.

Mindmaps don’t help us keep our focus

Mind maps do the opposite, encouraging us to generate more related ideas.  There’s a risk that we’ll try cramming too many ideas into long Modlettes, and that gets overwhelming for learners.

So, I do not recommend using mindmaps for structuring a Modlette.  A mindmap is more useful when outlining a whole course of Modlettes.

For one off modlettes, I recommend sticking to bullet points or questions refer Map the Journey - Modlettes.

How to evaluate your outline

You can create a better map if you concentrate on the problem, you help solve and to which happy place you’ll guide your learners.

To evaluate your outline, the first question to ask yourself is:

If the outline doesn’t guide the learner to the happy place, you have two options:

  1. Expand your outline with the missing points or questions
  2. Keep the outline as it is, but narrow down the happy place that you can guide your learner to.

The second question to ask yourself is how long your Modlette will be.  The optimal length of a Modlette is 22 minutes (as recommended as concentration time by TED talks).  That’s a rough guide.

Next week:  We’ll look at the map or outline creation process.

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