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The Art of Simplification in eLearning Design

eLearning courses are designed for the benefit of students and not to bombard them with irrelevant information. Relevant information is necessary, but if you exceed a human’s brain capacity to understand and retain all the information, then all the learning goes to waste. Designers often ask how they can improve the quality of their eLearning content and make them more engaging. What can they do? Stick to one of design's timeless rules: “keep it simple” . 

Applying the principle of simplicity in eLearning means relaying information through the simplest means possible. Less information will always be more. When too much clutter vies for the learner's attention, the learner may not see the forest for the trees. They end up thinking the course isn't worth so much effort, and the content gets lost. 

Keeping it simple can be an art. So, let’s discuss some tips to improve the eLearning design and help learners get through the course as fast as possible. Make sure to use these as your goals for next year when you design a new course: 


1) Know Your Audience

The importance of understanding the target audience cannot be stressed enough. If you don’t know your intended audience, that’s the first step to failing at creating an eLearning course. The more you keep the audience in mind while you design the course, the more engaging the readers will find it once they start going through it. Being clear about who they are also ensures that training focuses on what really matters. After all, only an economist would be able to understand a fellow economist when he talks about the falling economy and is using complex economic jargons. So, identify your learners, what they need to know, do and feel before going ahead with an eLearning course. Here're some useful resources to start:

2) Focus On the Essentials

Remeber what Dieter Rams said? "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.

This is perhaps the most important step for any eLearning developer. When it comes to communication via eLearning, it’s very easy to complicate a message by going overboard with content. The best solution is to resist including every detail in the course and sieve out the most relevant content. Make everything count, or just get rid of it. This way, your students will have a better time learning rather than going through a downpour of uninteresting content. Just remember, like you, the learners don’t have unlimited time, so the information you deem necessary, only include that. Think deeply about what you’re going to include in your courses, because time is of the essence.

Tip: Asking the right questions to your SME will help you focus on what's important and leave out the "nice-to-have" information. 

3) Use Plenty of White Space

There aren’t many eLearning courses that use the power of white-spaceSome screens are so cluttered with content and graphics that learners don't know even where to look first. When there is so much to take in, learners feel overwhelmed and they end dropping the course or moving on to the next screen. 

The knowledge of how to use white space for your benefit can set you apart and engage your students more than they would in other courses. It is also called negative space, and the reason why it so effective is because it amplifies the focus of the content and makes it easier to read. It seems far more attractive than a cluttered screen full of information, half of which isn’t even necessary. Absorbing the information which uses white space isn’t a complicated process and can be a transforming design element for eLearning course developers.

Here are a few examples of websites which make a good use of white space. 

And here are other 21 Inspiring Examples of White Space in Web Design.

4) Support Text with Visuals

Supporting your text with pictures and visuals can halve the effort of the students in learning about new information (people’s retention capacity increases by almost 90% if you use images instead of words). The more text there is, the more clutter it creates. Coupling pictures with texts, however, creates more appealing learning opportunities. Steve Jobs, the former CEO of Apple Inc., used this concept to mass effect. By placing as little information as possible and visualizing it with a picture, he would make it far more fascinating than it would have been with simple text and words.

Bottom-line: There are plenty of words to describe or explain something, but as they say, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’, images can save a lot of space you may spend on writing. 

5) Avoid Wordiness

You should try to express meaning in as few words as possible. In fact, studies reveal that the lesson with the fewest words resulted in the most learning. To avoid wordiness,you should specifically limit paragraphs to no more than three or four sentences spanning over two to three lines. This will avoid having too many ideas in a short space, will enable learners to digest information faster, and encourage learners to read more.

Avoid wordiness by learning some practical tips here.

Must read: Concise Writing: Kick weak words out of your e-learning courses

6) Think Beyond the Course

A course should be designed keeping the end results in mind. If a course is designed as an event or as just a load of information, it wouldn’t have any impact on the students who go through it. The best course is one which helps students change their behavior and learning pattern after the course. If you feel your course will achieve that target, it is worth your time and effort.

So, these are some ways you can incorporate the art of simplification in e-Learning design. Want some inspirational quotes to share with your peeps, check out these Slideshare presentation we've just completed:



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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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