SHIFT's eLearning Blog

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

To visit the Spanish blog, click here
All Posts

Keep eLearning Readable or Don’t Bother Using Text at All


Recently, we found some powerful words by Carrie Cousins which made us think on how they apply to eLearning: "Design for readability or don’t bother using text at all. If you want your content to be effective, it must be readable." 

As a learning professional, your responsibility is not just to deliver eLearning content to your students – it’s to make sure that it’s engaging and readable. What that means, is that you’re going to have to learn about design, especially typography.

At its essence, eLearning is mostly about reading, and if what you’re offering is visually confusing or hard to read, your then your material simply fails to deliver. And since readability is an essential aspect of comprehension, it's necessary to consider the ease with which students can read the text.


What Makes People Want to Read?

According to Nectafy.com, if you’re concerned that people might not be reading your content, chances are they aren’t. Or at the very least, they’re having a difficult time of it. When eLearning is your design focus, the last thing you want is to deliver content that isn’t readable. A good course is not made from stock photos and fancy fonts. What you want is letters that are easily distinguishable and illustrations that are interesting and relevant.

Illustrations will be the subject of another post. For now, we’re going to focus on type, and only type, and how it can help you develop an effective eLearning course.

So, back to the question. What makes people want to read? It’s letters that are obvious and clear. And reading online is very different from reading on paper. Why? Let’s talk about serif versus sans serif.

Pick easy-to-read fonts

Pick up a book, and chances are that what you’ll see within its pages is what’s known as serif type. Serifs are those tiny ornamental elements that finish off a letter. You’ll see them on typefaces like Times New Roman, Garamond, Palatino and Bookman, to name a few of the more popular fonts. On paper, serif typefaces are the easiest to read. On a computer screen, not so much.

So what fonts work best for on-screen reading? Ideally, your eLearning design will consist of sans serif typefaces like Helvetica and Arial. On screen, they’re clean and easy to read, where serif typefaces tend to blur.

Why is this so important? It’s simple – if your typeface is hard to read, then people aren’t really reading – they’re just skimming.

How to Design eLearning for Readability

It might be tempting to throw up your hands and say “I’m a trainer, not a designer!” But the fact is that as a learning and development professional, it’s your responsibility to ensure that your students absorb the material you’re delivering. So yes, you do have to be a designer – or at least understand the basics of design.

Strategies to Improve Readability

In order to deliver content that your students are actually going to read, there are a number of strategies you can employ. Here we offer you a quick course: 

4-12-Readibility_en

1) Use Contrast

The most readable text is simple – it’s black text on a white background. Please resist the temptation to use white text on a black background – it’s visually impressive, but no one is going to read it. And just because you can offer up text in blue, pink, green, or practically any other color of the rainbow, that doesn’t mean that you should. Different colors are great for headings and subheadings – they definitely attract interest and help the flow, but they’re not suitable for body text. Don’t try to re-invent the wheel. Black on white has worked for centuries as body text, and with good reason.

2) Break It Up

Any huge block of text is difficult to read. Morkes and Nielsen (1997) study revealed that writings for the Web scored 47% higher in usability when written to be more scannable. So mix it up with headers, sub-headers and bullet points to create an easy flow through your content. Simply stated, text is easiest to read when you deliver it in short paragraphs – ideally, no more than four sentences each. You can also toss in a graphic or two to add visual interest, but make sure that it relates to the content. 

3) Use White Space

If your eLearning design consists of wall-to-wall text, no one is going to want to read. Use margins around your text blocks, and additional spacing between lines so that people know where one paragraph ends and the next begins.

Read further on how to use white space to improve your course’s legibility, readability, comprehension and usability.

4) Alignment

Type that is left-aligned is easier to read than type that is right-aligned. You can use right alignment occasionally, like when you’re wrapping text around photos, but in general, lean to the left. Justified type (that’s type that’s lined up equally on the left and the right) doesn’t work well on web pages, because the text blocks are usually narrow and justification results in huge gutters of white space.

5) Use Font Sizes Judiciously

Your body text should always be in one size, and one size only. Go larger on subheads, and larger still in headers. This alerts the learner to when a new topic or subtopic is being developed. Ideal sizes for effective eLearning courses are 18 point for headers, 14 for subheads, and 11 or 12 for body text.


There you go. Now you’re not just an trainer, you’re on your way to becoming a designer. Isn’t designing effective eLearning courses a lot easier than you thought?

eLearning free ebook

Karla Gutierrez
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.

Related Posts

Four Ways to Create an Effective mLearning Strategy

Chief learning officers, learning leaders, and training coordinators everywhere are well aware of the need to increase mobile training programs. After all,  74% of employees say they access resources from their smartphones to do their jobs— and that number is expected to continue to grow. 

How to Design Microlearning Around Moments of Need

Let’s be honest: your employees use smartphones and tablets every day, everywhere — including in your workplace.

  • 8 min read
  • Thu, Jun 16, 2022 @ 04:44 PM

The Basics of Motivational eLearning Design

When we think of the word, motivation, instantly two things come to mind. First, when we are young, many outside things motivate us, a desire to do something, the reality of punishment from our parents, positive and negative reinforcement of what we are doing, etc. All of these things help to motivate children, and in some cases, it has a positive effect, and in other cases, it does not. The more proactive the motivation, the more positive the response to that motivation, the more reactionary the motivation, the more negative the response. The second picture that comes to mind is a learned reaction to something. Like Pavlov and his dogs, which would salivate when he rang the bell, motivation can be at times subconscious. However, there are much more things that drive the motivation of human beings, and in the arena of learning, there are some critical pieces to the puzzle that have to be developed so that learners feel the value of what they are learning and how it will benefit them. The rewards of their success must be considered from a variety of sources and satisfy them on a variety of levels, and as instructional designers of e-learning programs, we must not only understand these factors but be skilled in utilizing them in the courses that we design.