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eLearning Design – I Didn’t See What You Did There

One of the interesting and maybe ironic things I’ve found about designing eLearning is, in many cases, if the job is done well, the design itself is never noticed. I’m not saying that someone who engages in a well-designed eLearning course shouldn’t appreciate the work that went into it, but that the design should serve to present the content seamlessly to the learner. In other words, the design should be the background, pushing the content forward.

Just like a car, the instructional design elements need to work

In his book Don’t Make Me Think, Steve Krug has a great analogy for user experiences on the web that resonated with me. He asks the reader to think about having to rent a car with entirely different controls than usual, e.g., the gas pedal is on the left and the horn is on the door instead of the steering wheel. To get anywhere, you would need to adjust how you would normally operate a car significantly.

To take this analogy further, imagine if once you find the horn on the door of the car, you push it only to realize it controls the windshield wipers. Instead of getting the usual feedback you expect from your car driver experience, you get unexpected results. You would be so busy dealing with the controls and how to use them that you wouldn’t enjoy the journey. You would probably get to the destination (if you were lucky!) and be glad it was over.

I didn’t start writing this intending to make a car analogy, but I think it illustrates the point. If taking an eLearning course is a journey, then a good designer will make sure the controls the learner uses to navigate are located and work as expected, so they can enjoy the scenery in the form of content presentation and get to the desired destination.

Design shouldn’t compete with knowledge

Great design is also about keeping the learner “focused on the road. My philosophy when designing a course is to choose design elements that enable learners to give their attention to the task at hand rather than being distracted by the choice of colors or fonts for the graphics and text.

This is not to say the design or course itself should be forgettable. Quite the opposite; it should communicate information quickly and efficiently. There is plenty of room for creating memorable moments in eLearning, but those moments are much more effective when they are easily accessible and readable rather than drowned out by a cacophony of poor design choices and inexplicable controls.

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