Content Lethargy

In our field of work (content creation), one thing that remains constant is content. It keeps changing its shape and structure, but the same content remains in front of our eyes during the entire life cycle of a project. In the case of projects that go on for a year or more, sometimes, it becomes tiring to work on the same content as we move through the different stages of content development.

Content lethargy has affected me once or twice or maybe more than twice during my professional life. I have come to realize that it is one topic that is rarely acknowledged and discussed during our content development meetings, esp. where we discuss the roadblocks in the content development process. The biggest reason for this ignorance is that many content developers do not recognize this issue and may not have a term to define it.

I have rarely come across any Instructional design article talking about content lethargy. But it should be written about more and discussed at length in any content development team meeting.

Content lethargy is a term I am using here to denote the mental lethargy a content developer feels while looking at the same content for a long period of time or through the duration of a project. “Content Lethargy” is different from the popular term “Content Fatigue” which refers to the mental fatigue an average social media consumer experiences as too much content is thrown at them all the time from all directions. Content fatigue is the information overload that you experience due to the influx of social media in your life. Whereas content lethargy is a result of looking at the same content again and again during a set period of time.

When/How does Content Lethargy take Place?

Too much Content to Read and Select ­– Sometimes, during the initial phase of the project, you have lots of content to read and select the relevant material out of it. When you are reading it for the first time, you are excited as it piques your interest. However, when you are reading the same content for the fourth time, subconsciously, the content lethargy starts kicking in.  

Designing and Development – During the design and development phases, you go through the selected content repeatedly to get a clear understanding. Unless you have a clear understanding of the content, you will not be able to suggest the best learning style and the appropriate training delivery method. Also, you need to go through the content many times to come up with clear learning objectives and related assessments.

Review Comments Fixing – A review of your course curriculum or course outlines by the Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) may result in you re-looking at the content with a new understanding. Also, as you fix the language and technical review comments in your storyboards or a developed course, you go through the content many more times.

Cycles of ImprovementCycles of Improvement refer to the iterative process of going through the content development steps (ADDIE framework), not necessarily in sequential order, until we achieve the final product. For example, while developing the content, we may end up revising the scope of the training or re-designing the course outlines. Or, while designing the course curriculum, we may go back to the client with more questions, and this may result in re-aligning our proposal for suggested training media, training methodologies, or course structure.

Cycles of Improvement – The ADDIE steps (Analysis, Development, and Design) are shown at the intersection of the main phases of ADDIE. This represents these phases intersect with each other due to evaluation/ assessment at each step.

How does Content Lethargy affect us?

Lack of Interest – When you read the content for the first time, it interests you and you are excited to read and understand it. You come up with ideas on how to present it for the best learning experience. But, when you keep looking at the same content trying to understand it, or during multiple iterations of reviews and discussions, the content starts becoming banal.

When you read the same content again and again, there comes a point when you are no longer able to register the content in your mind.

Less Creative Ideas – If the content no longer excites you, your creativity takes a backseat, and you fall into the trap of using safe and well-accepted ideas from past projects. This includes suggesting the same learning methodologies and styles and using similar training media and delivery methods.

Rush to finish the Project – A stage comes in the project when you no longer wish to dwell further into the content and just want to move on to the next stage and finish the project. When this phase comes, instead of going that extra mile for any innovative idea of creating an extraordinary course, you rush through things and end up designing an average course with average design ideas and assessment methods.

Multiple and stressful Iterations – Multiple iterations of reviews and fixing happen when the content is reviewed by a fresh pair of eyes and fixed by a set of tired eyes. If you are already tired of looking at the content, any suggestion for its improvement will meet resistance.

How can you avoid/Deal with Content Lethargy?

Take a Break – If your project allows, take a break for a day or two and come back with a fresh mind to re-look at the content.

Take advantage of the Initial Excitement – You will never be at your creative best during the end of the project. Content development projects are doomed to be fighting for time as they reach the final stage. Your best bet to avoid content lethargy and to be creative is during the initial stages of the project.

Take help from the SMEs to Parse the Content – If the content is too large and overwhelming, take help from the SMEs who can filter the relevant content. You may be surprised to see how much of the irrelevant content is removed in this process.

Sometimes changing the format of your content also helps. Instead of reading it on your computer, try taking a print-out.

Invite discussions during the Design Phase – If your project allows, try to take the opinions of other team members or colleagues from different projects to avoid dealing with the content alone. Share the selected and relevant content and invite them for a discussion over lunch or coffee.

Don’t be afraid of Reviews – Try to invite SMEs and Instructional Design (ID) leads in the early stages of content development and let them know you look forward to their feedback on the design and structure of the course. Remove stress from the content review process by clearly distinguishing between corrections and design improvement suggestions.

Content Lethargy may not be detrimental to the success of the project, but it makes the process tiring and may be the biggest cause of why many projects turn out similar to the previous ones.


Disclaimer – At the time of publishing this content, I am working with an e-learning organization, University4Industry (U4I). The ideas presented in this blog are my own as as independent blogger and are not connected with U4I or my work @U4I.

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