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Compelling content: WIIFM?


Billie Jane Hermosura is an educator and PhD candidate at the University of Ottawa, Canada. Her current area of research and practice is in competency and leadership development. She is a registered dietitian and has experience in health professions education. Billie Jane continues to develop her professional practice as an educator, and has recently expanded her skillset into learning experience design (LXD). In this 'short and sweet' submission, Billie Jane provides sure fire tips and techniques for academics (especially those in their early careers) for writing effective and engaging course content suitable for adults, be it online or face to face.

Juggling a research and teaching portfolio can be tough, especially for early career academics. As an academic you are well-read and intellectually nimble in your subject area. You have experience in academic writing albeit your dissertation or journal articles. To add to your curriculum vitae you also teach one or two courses a semester. Do you find it challenging to switch from academic writing to writing course content? Well, you are not alone!

First and foremost, consider the concept of 'What's In It For Me' or WIIFM. What is the overall purpose of your content? Your learner should be able to clearly identify "what's in it for me?" Essentially, they need to know how the content can be applied to their day-to-day. Nick Davies writes that "if a learner can't see how the learning will improve their life at work, they are unlikely to absorb information they consider irrelevant." As a learning professional, you need to demonstrate relevance at the beginning and throughout the course.

In addition to being learner-centric, below are three sure fire tips that you can use to write compelling content for your learners. If you click on the hyperlinks below, you can find added resources I've curated to help guide you further.

1) 'Chunk' your content

Chunking is a process where you cut out excess, unrelated information. Review your context and decide what your learners need-to-know. The nice-to-know information can be provided as a resource or removed completely. Adults lead busy lives, filled with multiple priorities, so you helping them get to the information they need, efficiently, is important. Chunking helps your learners make sense and retain new information. If you are interested in learning more chunking strategies, check out this resource.

2) Keep your tone casual

Give your content personality by writing in a conversational style that is friendly and has an informal tone. A casual tone promotes engagement, in particular in a e-learning environment. Write with the same voice and enthusiasm you use when teaching in-person.

3) Minimize visual clutter

This is particularly important in the e-learning space. Choose visual elements that add to the instructional value and resonate with your learners. Also, use white space to provide balance to busier areas of the screen. Avoid cluttered screens where possible.


Writing compelling content to promote learner engagement takes time and practice. There are many tips on strategies to improve your writing to better target this demographic. Narrow in on one or two specific skills you want to improve, and focus on using it for one course or semester. You will see how the changes you make promote greater engagement with your learners.

Do you have a voice in the world of adult learning, like Billie Jane? We'd love to hear from you and feature your insights in an article. Email us here to get in touch!

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