More is better, bigger is better, shinier is better. Not necessarily when it comes to visual aesthetics in human-computer interactions.
Imagine opening a website looking for something specific, when all at once banners and pop-up ads start flashing at you, graphics are whirling, sounds exploding, text is blinking. The effect? You frantically start clicking and closing and minimizing… or you just become overwhelmed or annoyed and leave.
While not necessarily the case with training program design, there are instances when in the hopes of adding more functionality and value, course designers forget about the actual human experience of trainees.
First impressions are everything and looking at a program that does not immediately please us aesthetically makes us less inclined to enjoy interacting with it.
A number of studies have confirmed what we as humans find beautiful and these principles can easily be applied to e-learning programs as well.
While content is still key and needs to be presented in an engaging and digestible way, course design is just as important in improving a training program’s outcomes.
The effect of less
The Zen approach to design, or aiming to achieve the most with minimal means, has been shown to enhance the user experience and ultimately reach better outcomes.
More specifically, e-learning design should set out to highlight key concepts in an accessible and uncluttered way. Trainees are more likely to concentrate on what matters.
The more distractions a learner is faced with, the more overwhelming the entire process seems. In return, the mind easily gets distracted and the effect of the training program is lost.
This phenomenon can be attributed both to extraneous design and content, which pulls the attention from multiple directions.
To avoid such distractions, e-learning professionals should narrow down the scope of information presented with each following screen.
Weeding out the extras allows the learner to focus on what’s truly important and retain the essential concepts.
Achieving simplicity in course design
Simplicity is not only associated with less content and less variety in graphics, but also with order and consistency.
If the course style changes drastically from one screen to the next, learners may get subconsciously confused or even reluctant to adapt to the new style presented at them.
E-learning professionals should keep in mind that learners expect continuity not only in terms of how content is presented to them, but also in visuals and element organization.
Creating a template that holds together the entire training program and uses specific features throughout will only enhance the learners’ experience with the materials they are presented.
There are a number of elements that can go into a unified course style template:
• Images and graphics
These should not be vector graphics on one screen and full-blown art photography on the next.
In addition, other graphic elements, such as flowcharts, graphs, tables, etc. should display similar consistency in design.
• Fonts and colors
While colors may, in some cases, bring life to dull content, using a pre-selected palette of a limited number of colors is preferable to throwing in any color that looks good individually.
In ideal cases, colors should also have assigned functions so the learner’s eye has another aid in following along with the material.
To keep things simple, a single font family is far better than a number of (often) incompatible ones.
• Buttons and functions
To ease the learners’ experience, course designers should place buttons (save, proceed, help, etc.) and freeze their location for the duration of the course.
It isn’t fun for anyone to be faced with challenging training material and at the same time try to memorize the different functions and buttons again and again for every few screens.
• Titles, headers, and bullets
When a course-taker first glances at a new screen, they should be able to identify what they are
looking at without reading. Is it a new concept? Is it an illustration or an example? Is it the same idea from the previous screen, continued?
The systematic use of a unified system of markers should help along, not additionally confuse. Beauty is not the sole purpose of aesthetically pleasing e-learning design.
It is a powerful tool for enhancing the entire learning experience and make content flow more easily, eliminate distractions and ultimately improve learning outcomes.
Have you found that simple design works for you? In which areas of course design are you having trouble when it comes to simplifying? What are your own strategies for making e-learning more effective?
We’d love to hear back from you in the comments section below.
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Culture determines not only how one learns and what one learns but also what one perceives as important to learn – and the effects of culture on learners’ experiences in elearning can be profound. Culture affects social behavior, communication, cognitive processes, and how one interacts with learning technologies – all central components to elearning design (Vatrapi, 2008). Anybody who has taught multi-cultural classes innately understand this in those “lost in translation” moments – dead silence, hesitation, discomfort, lack of participation – all visual cues. But if you’re doing an elearning course, especially if it’s self-paced, trainers cannot know what’s going on at the other end for learners.
Because of the nature of elearning the relative risks of culturally inappropriate design are greater – you risk not only lack of participation, but people could reject the course outright, or alternatively take the course, but use valuable resources such as extra time in order to complete it. Another risk is that learning outcomes just aren’t the same and the knowledge that has been “transferred” is simply not applicable in the learner’s environment.
So what does this mean for the instructional designer?
Course designers must consider that their training or elearning course is going to accommodate the learners’ preferences and learning outcomes. Particular steps can be taken to adapt elearning for cross-cultural learners (from Edmundson):
1) Language translation – do materials need to be translated into (local) languages, including possibly making changes from American to British English? Are cultural references made within the material relevant to learners?
2) Localization – are the learning materials appropriate to the specific cultural context? Is imagery – such as the use of colors – appropriate? Is the clothing appropriate? Are the gestures culturally appropriate and understandable?
3) Access – do users have access to the technology that they need in order to undertake the elearning course (computers, internet/broadband connection, plugins &/or administrative ability to download them)?
4) Critical cultural distinctions in learners (from Campbell, 2011)
- Are the learners cooperative or individualist learners?
- Are the learners primarily motivated internally or externally?
- How do the learners typically experience control over their learning – do they have a preference for following sequential instruction, or do they discover different aspects at their own pace?
- What role do learners expect teachers to take – authoritative experts, or facilitators?
- What value do learners place on errors – are errors considered a crucial part of the experience of learning, or are learners considered to be educated after they can perform a given task without errors?
In today’s truly international work environment, trainers need to go beyond merely recognizing cultural differences to actually adapting their programs to accommodate for those differences – and in the process avoiding potentially costly errors.
Vatrapi, R.V. (2008). Cultural Considerations in Computer Supported Collaborative Learning. Research and Practice in Technology Enhanced Learning, 3(2), 159-201.
Andrea Edmundson. Free resources accessible from her website.
Alice Campbell. (2011). Authored this Wiki page