SHIFT's eLearning Blog

Our blog provides the best practices, tips, and inspiration for corporate training, instructional design, eLearning and mLearning.

All Posts

How To Avoid Designing Cluttered eLearning Screens

How often have you sat through a course dazed and dumbfounded because you couldn’t figure out what to focus on?

How often have you sat through an entire presentation squinting your eyes because you couldn’t make out from your fifth-row seat what the trainer had crammed into a sliver of space near the bottom of the screen?

Sadly, such horror stories are not uncommon because even the most well-meaning of instructional designers have been guilty of creating cluttered and messy eLearning screens where the message is lost in the din of images, icons, text, charts, and graphs that are stuffed in together. A hotchpotch of visual elements not only clutter the screen but also tax learner’s patience and ultimately, their ability to learn something meaningful from your course.

“Designer or not, you can create clutter-free #eLearning screens”. Tweet this

Below are 7 ways to help you cut the clutter from your eLearning screens:


1) Keep audience needs in mind

Your courses are for your learners, so isn’t it obvious that you will create them keeping their needs in mind? But sometimes what is most obvious isn’t the easiest to carry out. Or else why would there be so many eLearning courses that beat around the bush, harp on the same topic, go round and round in circles, and contain too much information that learners are not interested in knowing?

Keeping audience needs in mind when you create courses ensures you are not wasting your audience’s precious time and your energies. You need to create courses that are focused and clutter-free keeping the following points in mind:

  • Carry out a thorough audience analysis to determine what your learners already know and what they need to know. These insights will help you figure out if your audience can wrap their wits around what you intend to include on the screen.
  • Carry out a thorough content analysis as well. Categorize information under “Need to Know” and “Nice to Know” heads. Present all content that you have categorized as nice-to-know information in layers (to be revealed to the audience when they click on or move the cursor over a button, tab, an image, or a particular word or phrase) or as job aids.
  • Ask WHY. Why would the audience care about the information you want to present in your course? If your course is about a new product launch, the answer to this question should be the same as the why that spurred you to launch the product. Don’t think about design first thing when you are at the drawing board. Reflect on your audience’s expectations from your course. In your eagerness to create a drool-worthy course, don’t end up creating a crowded and cluttered screen where the multitude of visual elements drown out the why.

2) Storyboard everything first

Creating a storyboard before the developing the course is the best thing you can do. Storyboarding lets you organize content so that you can create clutter-free screens. The storyboard gives you an idea how the course will look like, so you know if some screens are too cluttered and need to be reworked. 

Here are some pointers to help you make the most of the storyboarding process:

  • Make sure that you have nailed down the learning objectives and instructional strategy before you get down to writing the storyboard.
  • Use the storyboard to stick to the content outline and/or the story idea that will run through the course.
  • The process of creating a storyboard gives you the opportunity and space to reflect on the flow of information through the course. A storyboard gives you an idea how each screen will look like. If you think one screen looks too crowded, space out the information across multiple screens.
  • Use the storyboard to guide you and ensure that too many ideas are not crammed into one single slide and that the content on every screen maps to the training goals.

Grab our free storyboard template here.

3) Adopt the "less-is-more" approach for onscreen text

With so many elements vying for the learner’s attention in a cluttered screen, they are compelled to split their attention between reading, absorbing, and analyzing the information. Learners become confused and cannot fathom what to focus on. The human brain cannot function optimally if it is made to multi-task. It’s difficult for the eyes to find the focal point and grasp the most important information.

Here are some tips to help you simplify your text-heavy screens:

  • Try to explain only a single idea in one screen.
  • Instructional designers have to also be content curators. Being able to create lean slides that shun the text-heavy look depends on your ability to sift through and filter content. Ensure that you highlight the critical pieces of information, say with bullet lists. You can make the key parts of a bullet item bold, however, restrict this highlighted portion to only a few words. Too much emphasis can be an overkill!
  • Reduce the number of long phrases and lengthy sentences you use. Simplify the language, so your audience can process the information quickly and unambiguously.
  • Use voiceover or narration to provide instructions. This facilitates learning and eliminates the need to have too much text on screen. However, ensure that the audio is not a replica of the information presented as on-screen text. Use audio to steer the learner to read the text; it should NOT be the other way round.
  • Represent information visually. Instead of using large chunks of text to describe a product or a scene or an event, use visuals. For instance, a diagram or a chart does a better job of conveying the underlying relation between two objects than a few lengthy sentences.
  • Discuss with the subject matter expert and learn about the desired behavioral outcomes that you seek to produce in the learners after they have gone through your course. Also, learn how these behavioral responses manifest in reality. Then create exploratory activities that replicate these behavioral responses. This does away with the need to write chunks of text describing a specific behavior.
  • Create a model to simplify complex information. Models are powerful and sticky because they help people make sense of the world around them—the relationships between objects, the patterns underlying events, and the common trends in multiple situations—with just a casual glance. Here are some ideas on how to create models: 
    • Chunking: This involves grouping common items in a cluster. Make sure that you point out their similarities and differences.
    • Sequencing: Order the items if they occur in a specific sequence, such as the steps or stages of a process, the chronological order of events, or zooming into a microscopic view from a bird’s-eye level.
    • Flowcharts: Use flowcharts to helps audience visualize the steps of a process and the decision points involved at the various stages of a particular event.

4) Provide information in layers and let audiences drill down to explore the content 

Do not place every bit of information upfront on the screen. Layer the information, and let learners discover it by exploring the screen and interacting with the various graphical elements to reveal rollover text and pieces of information inside click pop-ups. For instance, instead of having a large chunk of text and several small visuals crowding the screen, you can place a graphical icon with a symbolic image of the idea contained within the text. Learners can click on the image of the icon to read more detailed information.

This is the drill-down method of exploring content. It not only makes the screen clutter-free but also drives learner engagement by letting the audience interact with the elements on the screen.

5) Incorporate breathing space

We know how it is... as instructional designers, we always want to provide as much information to learners as possible. We want them to complete the learning journey with us feeling as if they know everything that is there to know about a subject. In all our earnestness, many of us end up cramming every available inch of screen real estate with content.

The result: mess, clutter, and confused and frustrated learners.

Cluttered screens not only look overwhelming and messy but also throttle the instructional effectiveness of the content.

The solution: More white space on the screen.

White space helps learners distinguish between objects by creating a barrier of sorts and thus banishes clutter.

Here are some tips on how to use white space effectively in your eLearning designs:

  • Aim for balance and harmony. While you need to insert white space in the screens, it is definitely NOT a case of the more, the merrier. Too much white space gives a screen a barren look and leaves learners wondering if you forgot to include something. Use white spaces mindfully and smartly, so you do not look inept by over- or underusing it. Aim for a balance between white space and the other visual elements on the screen.
  • Use white space to create visual hierarchy. When you try to make everything on screen look like critical pieces of information, learners are confused because they cannot make out what is actually important and worth their attention and focus. You need to prioritize information. Use white space to create the distinction between various pieces of content. For instance, a title in a large fort size and a chunk of text in a smaller font size placed just below tell learners that the most critical piece of information is contained in the title.
  • Group similar elements and surround these with white space. This differentiates them from dissimilar elements.
  • Draw attention with whitespace. Surround an element on the screen with white space if you want learners to notice it first. For instance, you may want learners to first observe a character before they begin to read the text. 

Read more: The Power of White Space to Improve Screen Design in eLearning

6) Keep visuals simple

When it comes to interpreting meaning from a visual, there are as many views as there are people. So, to prevent ambiguity and misunderstandings, use simple visuals that leave no room for doubt.

Here are some tips to help you choose (or create) visuals that are simple yet effective:
When you use charts and graphs

Always favor a simple graph over a complex chart that needs much reading into. A graph not only plots the numbers but also shows trends, patterns, and relationships clearly. You just need to glance once at the graph to understand what is taking place with the numbers.

Remember these tow two cardinal rules of designing graphics:

  • Backgrounds distract. Remove the color from the background, so the graph matches the background color of the slide.
  • Use fewer colors. The intention should be to make the data prominent, and NOT create a clash of colors.

Go through this post for some more tips on how to design graphs for clarity.

When you use photographs

Make sure that the graphics you use correspond to the overall visual theme of the course. Learners are confused when there is a multitude of colors, a myriad of typefaces, and too many font sizes across the screens. 

Read more: 10 Easy Tips to Choose the Right Images 


Respect your audience’s time. Be humbled that they have chosen to take your course to feed their need for knowledge. Make sure that you don’t turn them away by dishing out cluttered screens that leave your audience wondering what they are staring at. 

visual design crash course 


Related Posts

The Key Components of a Learner-Friendly eLearning Course

It's so easy to assume the content is all that matters in an eLearning course. But, how information is presented affects its effectiveness. The design, for instance, influences how students interact with information. Think about one of your existing eLearning course designs: Is it too cluttered? Or is it designed to properly guide learners toward clear goals? 

  • 6 min read
  • Wed, Sep 22, 2021 @ 05:55 PM

How to Turn Your Employees into Lifelong Learners

A fat paycheck? Yes, but not always. The corner office within the next five years? Yes sure, but what about now? 401(k) plan. Health and dental insurance. Paid vacation. Well, these would be nice. What do you think is the single biggest factor that motivates employees to recommend their company as THE place to work for young, ambitious people? According to Bersin by Deloitte’s research with Glassdoor, learning, and career opportunities are accorded the highest priorities by employees. Clearly, employees know that in an ever-changing and volatile workplace, there is only ONE way to make oneself indispensable. Keep growing. Keep learning. Innovate consistently. Employees have not failed to learn from the examples around them. Companies like Yahoo,  BlackBerry, Blockbuster failed to keep up with the times. The result: they continued to lag till the day when they were forced to give up. Innovation is the game-changer. It is true not only for organizations but also for individuals. This is why companies are able to lure valuable employees away from their rivals with the promise of training opportunities. As an HR or training professional, you have to keep your employees interested in working for the company by providing them with ample learning opportunities. They need to improve their skills, increase productivity, and be on top of their game, so your business can out-innovate its rivals, tide over disruptions, and respond to market changes.

  • 13 min read
  • Wed, Sep 15, 2021 @ 04:44 PM

Don't Frustrate Your Learners! 7 Rules for Creating User-Friendly eLearning

What if the secret to life existed but was locked in a box that no one could open? Well, you’d pretty much just have a box, wouldn’t you? And that is also what you have when you design an eLearning course without taking usability into consideration. It matters little how relevant information in a course might be if your audience can’t access that information. While engaging students and making sure content is entirely covered are critical parts of course success, it is just as important to go through and make sure your user interface (UI) ducks are in a row. Taking the time to go through and check for user-friendliness will help ensure that your students don’t lose out just because the course is difficult to navigate. Keep in mind that an eLearning course often isn’t a choice for most people. They are taking this because they have to and will have little patience for guesswork. Make it clear what the user needs to do in order to advance in the course. Learning is difficult enough without the added annoyance of having to hunt for what to click on.