Do you have to be an instructional designer to create great learning content? As it becomes easier to integrate different content platforms like SmartUp, Articulate 360, Trailhead, and even Playbuzz, into one single interface, the answer is, you don’t. 
By Deborah Tan

In the course of my work at SmartUp, I often have to conduct workshops to train up our clients’ employees on how to use our content management system (CMS).

Some people take to the job like fish to water, some, not so. But more importantly, even though a lot of people have no problem creating content, many still struggle at creating great LEARNING content.

That’s right: creating content is different from creating learning content.
Do you have to be a formally trained instructional designer to do this well?
You don’t; as long as you wear the SmartUp “CAPE”. What exactly is this CAPE? Does it bestow upon its wearer superpowers in learning design?

Chunk Your Content

That 600-page textbook isn’t not going to magically become microlearning by itself.

How do you break it down? Simple.

First, think back to how you used to devour that super thick History book from school? I’m pretty sure you did not read it cover to cover. What did you do? Chapter by chapter? Or, did you scribble down the important points on cue cards so you could read off them on the bus to school?

Chunking is more or less the same. You break the content down into digestible bits so you can space the learning out. It’s like working to complete a series of small goals in order to conquer The Big Kahuna. Like how, in his quest for immortality, Voldemort hid his soul in 7 Horcruxes … you get what I mean.

Add A Relatable Voice

Personally, I think many people – especially corporates – use formal, jargon-filled writing way more than is necessary. Does it make them sound intelligent? Only to those who are easily intimidated. So …

Make it your personal mission to stare such writing down in the face. Challenge yourself to explain EVERYTHING simply and plainly. Hey, Bill Gates thinks Randall Munroe’s book “Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words” is awesome so, don’t worry, we are all in good company.

Write like how you speak – and I hope you don’t speak Vulcan.

Perhaps your writing for learning content isn’t going to win the Man Booker Prize. But the priority here is getting your message across, clearly and without ambiguity. As Gates puts it, “If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t really understand it.”
At SmartUp, our favourite piece of advice for content creators is, “Write it and then read it out aloud. If it sounds like something a nine-year-old can understand, it probably works.”

Pace Your Learning

Everyone talks about how “revolutionary” microlearning is – it’s not. And, I’m not dissing my product.

Microlearning is a great way to learn but it’s not an entirely alien concept. In fact, it’s INTUITIVE, it’s something we’ve known all along, and it’s how we all NATURALLY learn best.

Why? Because we’ve all done it before as kids. Our parents used flashcards when they tried to teach us the alphabet. Our teachers would pluck us out of our daydreams by “incentivising” us to get pop quizzes correct; get them wrong and it’s hello, detention!

As we got older, the education system became a lot more laborious, probably because of the general perception is that “higher learning” should be something tedious and mind-boggling. We lost that “microlearning” spark when lecturers got us to obsess over essays, theses, and dissertations. Everything “worth learning” suddenly became 1,000 pages long, including, corporate learning.
Pacing your content involves bringing back these “long forgotten” elements. After every important point, you enforce a pause and ask your reader a question. Every time you feel your eyes are beginning to “burn” from too much text, add an infographic or a picture.

Engage Your Reader

For a long time, no one cared about measuring engagement. It was all subjective, up to the individual, a matter of taste. Then the Internet happened and today, every piece of content is measured for Likes, Views, and Shares.
This is a new reality that we cannot hide from. Even for corporate learning.
Design your learning content to engage your reader because this is how your knowledge can be effectively shared.
We constantly tell content creators using SmartUp’s CMS that the Quiz card can be used for more than just testing knowledge. Used creatively, you can challenge your reader’s pre-existing notion about a topic, deliver deeper learning, and even reveal new knowledge!
The best bloggers and vloggers know that engagement is not something you can turn on with the flick of a button. A learning content designer should know that too. As you are building your content, make use of the tools you have at your disposal to keep your reader’s attention, and remember to always measure the engagement!

Shameless self-promotion: At SmartUp, we are offering workshops to customers keen to train their content team in the art of learning design. Check our website for more info or get in touch with us at for a free analysis of your organisation’s microlearning needs.

Deborah Tan is SmartUp’s Global Head of Marketing and Head of Content (Asia). Before entering the big bad world of tech, she spent a decade in women’s lifestyle publishing and was the launch editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan Singapore. She says she charges a fee for dating advice. Visit SmartUp at to find out more about us.