Documentation and e-Learning (Part 3): Learning Nuggets: An
Idea Whose Time has Come?
By Dave Powell, Documentation Manager, SyberWorks, Inc.
Many e-Learning and documentation developers have already noticed that our audiences don’t
have as much patience for extended content as in the past. There are probably a couple reasons:
Increased use of portable information devices with tiny screens.
Impatience with large quantities of un-engaging text.
Info Devices and Tiny Screens
Did you know that 33% of the Earth’s population uses cell phones, but only 17% uses computers
of any kind? What does this mean for the e-Learning industry? Think about the following:
1. Today, more people use “mobile information devices” like cell phones than traditional PCs.
2. These mobile devices have squinty little screens.
3. Screen text can shrink only so much before it becomes unreadable (especially for an aging
4. Having to scroll displays around to read things irritates users.
5. Therefore, tiny screens on portable devices will probably force ALL of us to write more
concise materials, with less text and reduced on-screen scrolling.
Too Much Text!
Also, today’s students seek much of their information through Google, YouTube, Twitter,
Facebook, Web blogs, and Wikis. These are engaging, lively, and (often) very concise delivery
channels. For example, Twitter messages can be no longer than 140 characters. If you’ve never
tweeted, here’s what 140 characters looks like (including spaces, but excluding quotes): “A big
shout-out to my many fans of ME!! I’m at the mall & wanted to ask everyone what you think I
should buy my girlfriend for her birthday?”
A whole new generation of information consumers is learning to communicate and exchange
information using these miniscule chunks. Similarly, millions of YouTube visitors every month
view video clips that are normally no longer than 150 seconds.
As I said…extremely concise delivery channels!
And if they aren’t already our customers, today’s students will become tomorrow’s users of our
products and services. After graduation, they’ll continue to expect concise content to be
delivered over engaging media. These future audiences won’t permit themselves to be bored by
e-Learning materials that drone on or don’t grab and keep their interest.
I’m already seeing the results of this. As SyberWorks’ STC software grows increasingly full-
featured, my manuals become fatter and fatter. When I arrived here a few years ago, the STC
User Manual was only 300 pages long. Today, it’s 1,200 pages and rising. I could hold or reduce
these counts by providing less detail, but that’s not a popular approach. So page counts grow,
and customers’ willingness to open their manuals drops. Today, they’re more likely to just call
Customer Support with questions… because the manuals contain too much paper.
As a result, the documentation field has been moving toward smaller modular content chunks,
which can be left standalone or combined with each other and delivered to different users and
information devices. The concept is actually quite similar to SCORM.
The Rise of “Learning Nuggets”
Similarly, “Learning Nuggets” are tiny e-Learning chunks that can be standalone or strung like
beads in e-Learning necklaces. These tiny lessons tend to focus on single concepts or tasks. They
Web Author), and usually include Flash animations, audio, video, demonstrations, educational
puzzles, and quizzes.
For example, I’ve seen a nugget that shows people how to determine their effective annual
salary, based on their annual wage and the number of hours that they REALLY work. This
nugget also shows how to compute what their salary WOULD BE, if they were paid for every
one of these hours. I could see this nugget being just one standalone unit in a string of “personal
Nuggets aren’t defined by any specific authoring technologies, either. The key things that
differentiate them from traditional course lessons are that nuggets are short, can stand alone, can
also be sequenced with other nuggets to meet individual training needs, and can be delivered
over a variety of media.
Googling “learning nuggets” will give you much more information about the work that’s being
done with them. When I did, I discovered that:
London’s The Learning Nuggets Company is creating low-cost nuggets for students in
“urban and rural sub-Sahara Africa.” Subjects include vocations, principles of management,
computing technologies, and even the rules for driving in Europe.
Developers have also discovered that nuggets lend themselves to “open source” sharing,
where nuggets developed by one company are exchanged with other developers around the
globe. Some tradeshows have even begun to collect pertinent nuggets from their exhibitors…
to sell or give away to attendees!
If you also research nuggets, you’ll discover many approaches to creating and delivering them.
But they all target flexible, low-cost content libraries that can be delivered to as many kinds of
devices as possible…including wireless gizmos carried in the world’s pockets.
But Things Could Get TOO Condensed
Recently, the British Qualifications and Curriculum Authority found that too many U.K. students
(especially those in their mid teens) were being taught using “extracts and short stories,” as
opposed to what they called a “sufficiently demanding reading diet” (e.g., novels and textbooks).
This condensed instruction, they added, is already producing students without “reading
That’s an interesting concept. And one must ask…Could breaking user documentation into ever
smaller chunks and learning materials into tiny standalone “nuggets” similarly erode the
“learning stamina” of my documentation readers and your online learners? We must stay on the
alert to see!
About the Author:
Dave Powell is Documentation Manager for SyberWorks Inc. (http://www.syberworks.com), a
privately-held supplier of e-Learning software and training. For the past 15 years, he has written
award-winning marketing collateral and user documentation for hardware/software companies
like PictureTel, 3Com, Philips Medical Systems, Polaroid, and SyberWorks. Prior to that, he
edited and wrote for publications like Computerworld, Infosecurity News, Networking
Management, Digital Design, LightWave, Popular Computing, Harvard Business Review, and
Leaders. (During that time, he also served as an author and Editorial Advisor for Sesame Street.)
About SyberWorks, Inc.
SyberWorks, Inc. (http://www.syberworks.com) is a leader in the custom e-Learning Solutions
and Learning Management System/Learning Content Management System (LMS/LCMS)
industries for Fortune 1000 corporations, law enforcement, healthcare, and other industries.
Located in Waltham, Massachusetts, the company serves the multi-billion-dollar e-Learning
market. Since 1995, SyberWorks has developed and delivered unique and economical solutions
to create, manage, measure, and improve e-Learning programs at companies and organizations in
the United States, Canada, Europe, and around the world.