E-Learning design is similar to any face to face course design at the outset. Where it starts to differ is that when the E-Learning course content is developed, you have one shot at getting the message and related information across to your audience. You do not have the luxury of a person physically in the room who can spot if anyone is struggling, or to rephrase any questions that are not answered in the way you wish.
One of the main reasons for opting to use E-Learning as the delivery method is because of a large and/or geographically dispersed audience. These factors would mean extensive movement of people to one or more locations for face to face training and that has an associated high cost, or numerous sessions to be delivered at the same time which often isn’t practical or even possible. E-Learning has quite a high cost for development, too. Any decision to run with E-Learning should be justified against the cost of other methods as part of the Training Needs Analysis.
Training Needs Analysis
The Training Needs Analysis is an essential element of any course design. It will highlight the course goals and learning objectives. The learning objectives will give you the basis for the competency assessment and will enable you to measure the effectiveness of the training Consider building in quizzes or ‘you try it now’ samples that the person learning can work through.
When you start thinking of the design, you are creating a storyboard. A storyboard is the visual bridge between a training course concept and its creation. A Storyboard is often the term used for E-Learning, whereas for a face to face course you often hear of a Lesson Plan. Both the Lesson Plan and Storyboard detail the topics that will be covered, the learning objectives, the key points of each topic and how they will be presented and subsequently tested. They serve to keep you on track and form a basis for approval of the final course that is developed. If you are using branching techniques to route different user groups to different segments, then this is where the branching routes are explained. Branching enables all users to work through part of the course, but then according to role perhaps, they can select from a menu to cover topics that are relevant to them. Now that you have the basic content you can start to flesh out the material and start to use the E-Learning software to develop the course.
While the learning content is certainly the most important component of an E-Learning course, quality visual design is a close second. If you look around on the internet you’ll see the most popular websites are clean, modern, smooth, and appealing to the eye. These days, people want to learn from images, videos, well-designed, interactive experiences. Stick to the essential material, remove the unnecessary items, and think carefully about the arrangement of the text and images on the page for best impact.
Here are some tips regarding various elements of the design.
This must be clear, easy to understand, smooth and intuitive. If you have a navigation bar, try to keep it in the same position on every screen – avoid changing the position unless absolutely necessary.
Keep the titles of the modules or chapters short and sweet, simple and informative – the same goes for titles of the separate screens within a module or chapter. Let them see where they are going, do not drown out the important with the unnecessary.
If the course is one in a series then ensure that the same look and feel is present. Be consistent in the screens of the course – use the same typeface, alignment and spacing. Keep the backgrounds light and the text dark. Images stand out better and it is easier to read the text. Any replication of software can take up full screen, but ensure that any information or action request boxes are consistent in colour and placement.
Stick to 1 or 2 fonts. These may be the standard corporate fonts as used by the organisation, but if you have the option to select your own, choose wisely. Stick to the same font family, and choose clear, safe typefaces or web-safe fonts. Use 1 font for the titles and the other for the information content.
Some suggested sans-serif typefaces: Arial, Impact, Lucida Grande, Tahoma, Verdana, Calibri and Helvetica.
Some suggested serif typefaces: Palatino, Times New Roman, Georgia.
Stick to 2 or 3 colours. You will probably be bound by a template issued by the organisation or by their corporate colours. Avoid using red text for emphasis, try using font attributes or sizes instead. Darker colours for text work best, but try to avoid black on white as this can be quite harsh on the eyes. Use soft, light shades for the background.
On information screens, keep the spacing for the margins consistent, and ensure that there is sufficient space. It is easier to read 2 separate screens of short paragraphs than 1 screen with words crammed in. Remember bite sized chunks work best.
Try using lists, or tables rather than lots of text. Lists or columns of information should not be too long, ideally about 6 items is sufficient, and if numbered by importance or alphabetically, this will help them grasp more complicated information and aid memory retention.
How you position images and text blocks on the screen is important because people are visually-oriented.
90% of information transmitted to our brain is visual, presentations with visuals are 43% more persuasive, and 65% of us are visual learners.
In fact, 93% of all communication is nonverbal. Visuals attract our attention, enhance our emotions, and affect our attitude.
- Our brain processes visuals 60,000 times faster than text
- 40% of people respond better to images than text
- 50% of our brain is active in visual processing
Keep the images simple but appropriate, position the most important at the top or on the left. Place any additional text underneath the visual. Do not put too much text on the image itself.
It is hard to keep on track with the vital content when there are some wonderful images that you would like to squeeze in somewhere, or some nuggets of useless information. It is so easy to get side-tracked with the imagery, the colours and fonts, but stay focussed. Write a list of Do’s and Don’ts and keep it alongside you when developing the course and don’t forget to look at it to remind you every now and then! If there are lots of additional resources with information for the learner, background information not the essential stuff that your course is about, then use links at appropriate points or list useful references at the end.
Step away from the information and focus on the action. What are they supposed to do? How do they demonstrate that they know how to do it in the real world? What activities can you build into your course that mimic those real-world decisions and actions? Work from the course goals and learning objectives backwards. That way you ensure that you stay focussed in your design. Focus on the measurable action that is the exercise they do at the end, drip feed the information they need to perform the action in small, orderly chunks.
Our course, How to Design E-Learning, includes these tips and much more on this subject as you develop your storyboards and your E-learning.
12 Aug 2019