SHIFT's eLearning Blog

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

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

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.

How Usable is Your eLearning Course? Follow the 5 E’s For Best Results

Usability applies to any user interface, from a door handle to an airplane cockpit - or an eLearning course. It means, simply, how easy it is for users to get what they need out of the device. How usable your eLearning course is, is one of the most important factors that make or break your entire program. Usability is so critical in eLearning because every minute students spend learning to use the software is a minute out of their time spent learning the content. What is Usability? Usability is a measure of how well a specific user in a specific context can use a product/design to achieve a defined goal effectively, efficiently and satisfactorily.   If you are in the middle or just starting an eLearning course, before you go any further, ask yourself if you have covered the 5 E's of usability. Use these as guidelines or standards to make sure your course is as easy to use as you can make it.

  • 7 min read
  • Wed, Sep 08, 2021 @ 04:44 PM