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Dear eLearning Designers, Please Stick To These Basic Design Principles

In today’s market, eLearning professionals and trainers need a good working knowledge of design principles. This is not to imply that they need to understand code or acquire a design degree, rather they ought to be able to identify what makes a good course and what a bad. This guide details the fundamental principles every course developer must know including how to utilize techniques to help workflow and produce significant effects in eLearning design.

eLearning design principles

1. C.R.A.P. for Effective Visual Design

The four basic principles present in every eLearning design can be abbreviated to CRAP. Every screen in a course should adhere to these basics to increase readability and understandability.

According to The Non Designers Design Book by Robin Williams, the four basic principles that apply to designing anything (including eLearning) are:

  • Contrast. Any two items that are not exactly the same should be very different.
  • Repetition. eLearning designers should repeat certain design elements throughout the course.
  • Alignment. Different aspects of the design should line up in columns, rows, and along a centerline.
  • Proximity. Developers should group related items together.

2. Gestalt for Coherence

Most coherent, connected, and unified designs follow the principles of Gestalt, a term which means whole. In such eLearning courses, the designer arranges elements to create a sense of completion, belonging, and harmony by focusing on the overall appearance of the course rather than the small details such as buttons, navigation, and font.

There are several principles of Gestalt, which work together to ensure learners form a positive opinion about the design from the first glance. This is because only after learners have noticed the overall design can they begin to focus on the details. These principles are: 

  • Similarity. Elements that are similar to one another merge into groups almost automatically.
  • Proximity. The idea that when learners sees several objects arranged together, they perceive these objects as belonging to a group.
  • Closure. The mind fills incomplete space with the missing information.
  • Simplicity. The mind will attempt to turn visual chaos into something more simple and understandable.
  • Continuation. The human eye naturally wants to move from one object to another.
  • Symmetry and order. The mind tries to perceive objects as symmetrical and based around a central point. This is because it makes sense to perceptually divide objects evenly and turn random, unconnected items into something understandable.

3. Dieter Rams’s Principles of Good Design

In the early 1980s, Dieter Rams set out 10 rules, now often called the 10 commandments, about what he considered to be good design. While nothing about our job as eLearning professionals is connected to industrial design, we've found enormous inspiration from these principles of good design:

  • Good Design Is Innovative. Innovative design has the element of surprise, which stops students from becoming bored and improves learners’ ability to encode new information.
  • Good Design Makes a Product Useful. Learners must find content useful to find value in it. Without perceived usefulness, students will learn very little.
  • Good Design Is Aesthetic. Aesthetics go hand in hand with usefulness. A course must be appealing in order for users to want to spend time with the content.
  • Good Design Makes a Product Understandable. The “product” in this sense is the eLearning course. It should consist of content relevant to learners’ needs by taking into account the skills students currently possess while providing learners with material that will lead them to obtaining the knowledge they desire.
  • Good Design Is Unobtrusive. Courses are tools to fulfill a purpose; therefore, eLearning design must be unobtrusive to leave room for self-expression.
  • Good Design Is Honest. Modules and objectives must all promise only what they can actually offer learners. When eLearning design ensures that expectations are met, students will have set their expectations for the program accurately and will experience no let down.
  • Good Design Is Long Lasting. By avoiding the latest trends and fads, a course will never become outdated. Although the developer can refine the information, there will never be any need to start over completely.
  • Good Design Is Thorough Down to the Last Detail. Nothing about an eLearning design should be arbitrary or left to chance. Instead, every detail should be planned to meet users’ needs and desires.
  • Good Design Is Environmentally Friendly. The design of any product should contribute to the preservation of the environment by conserving resources as far as possible and minimizing both physical and visual pollution. In terms of an eLearning course, this means improving the learning environment of the students and creating no extra noise or pollution for learners.
  • Good Design Is as Little Design as Possible. Developers should focus on just the most essential aspects of the course to make it as good as it can possibly be. Adhering to this rule of simplicity ensures that learners only receive as much material as they can absorb.

 eLearning free ebook


  Free Ebook: A Quick Guide for Modern eLearning Designers

Karla Gutierrez

Karla is an Inbound Marketer @Aura Interactiva, the developers of SHIFT. ES:Karla is an Inbound Marketer @Aura Interactiva, the developers of SHIFT.

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