pattern #9 - Knowledge Base

Knowledge Base


For larger volumes of information, provide learners with access to an easily browsable and searchable knowledge base for just-in-time learning.

  • VALUE Just-In-Time Learning
  • Design Effort High
  • Share

Evidence-Based Research

Every learning designer met that client who wanted a course that would integrate tens or even hundreds of pages. “Every word and every page are important”, they say.
However, learning large quantities of information is not as easy as putting all that information into an eLearning course, regardless of how good it is.
In his book “Make it Stick”, Peter C. Brown explains how people learn and the fact that exposing learners to new information only leaves so-called memory traces. Most of this new information is soon forgotten if not used (70% of new information is almost immediately forgotten and the remaining 30% is forgotten at a lower pace).
For this information to be transferred to the long-term memory and remember at a later stage, a more time-consuming process is required, called consolidation, with the goal of strengthening the mental representations. This is a process that requires hours, days or even weeks for each concept. During this process, the brain needs to rehearse the information several times, give it meaning, makes connections with past knowledge, fill-in blank spots and corrects misunderstandings. Sleep plays a significant role in this process as well.
Even if we manage to tackle this initial challenge, and learners will manage to transfer new information to long-term memory, a new challenge arise. While there is virtually no limit to how much we can learn, our retrieval capacity is limited. So-called retrieval cues are used to trigger the information we need, when we need it and our brain is wired to remove some of these retrieval cues as they are not used. In fact, our brain is wired to forget information that we do not use so that we can remember more easily the information we need.
Therefore, learning is a time-consuming, challenging and long-term process.
This is why I always advocate for User Guides when it comes to large volumes of information that need to be passed to an audience.
It opens the door for just-in-time learning and such guides are always very appreciated (unlike long and content-focused learning courses).


A large organization, with thousands of employees, has a large number of procedures and process in place. Sometimes, top management pushes L&D departments to train new staff to know everything, creating eLearning courses that are hours long and fail to provide more than an overview.
Such information needs to be operationalized and easily accessible for employees at any given time. eLearning courses do not provide this. Just imagine searching for piece of information in an hour-long vide-based course…
Having a simple intranet that makes the content easy to browse and searchable is always the best way to make such information available to employees.

Activity Rating Pattern

To make browsing easy, the content was organized on a number of categories that allow a fast drill-down navigation. Defining the topics is a challenge, as it needs to be really easy for learners to know which category “hides” the information they need. I always recommend using the card sorting technique.

Tree Menu
Tree Menu

Each topic is organized as a tree menu, which allow employees to easily browse through all categories within that topic.
Content is organized in a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) format, as this helps learners in finding the content they need and also helps the learning designer focusing on what the audience will need.


On such websites, chances are that a good percentage of the audience will be search dominant, preferring to search rather than browse through the menu.
Some studies put this number at over 50%, so make sure you allow your audience to search and that search provides relevant results.

Tree Menu
Content Design

This is where learning designers can really have a say. Content needs to be very well organized, operationalized with visual cues and text formatting that will allow learners to easily scan the text and find what they are looking for.
Remember that most users won’t read the whole text. They’ll just scan it and try to find what they are looking for. Design for that.

More Examples

While I find this pattern to be extremely useful, I find it impossible to provide any reference to other implementations initiated by learning design or L&D professionals.
Luckily, Knowledge Base Systems has become an industry in itself, with several off-the-shelf solutions being available.
Moreover, complex platform, like Facebook and Google, provide great examples on how to organize large volumes of information in a friendly way.

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