This e-learning challenge was first posted on the E-Learning Heroes blog on April 25, 2014.
The challenge for this week is to list some of the more common e-learning mistakes we come across in this business, and then design an e-learning mockup using these errors in an exaggerated form.
E-learning projects come in all shapes and sizes, but the vast majority—regardless of size—take a sizable amount of time to complete. The typical e-learning project is very much a ‘front-loaded’ affair. The instructional design, storyboarding, style guides, template creation, graphic design, etc.—all of it is (or should be) finalized and ready to go before the first bit of actual development takes place. It’s this ‘front-end’ stuff that makes or breaks the course. It takes a lot of time to hammer this stuff out, and all of it matters.
There are plenty of common e-learning mistakes out there, but I chose to focus on the more common design and visual mistakes I come across and very purposefully avoid for a few important reasons:
- The greatest instruction in the world can’t compensate for the worst design in the world, and vice versa.
- If the learner is distracted in any way because of the user interface, it becomes that much harder to connect the learner to your content.
- The way you design your course has a major impact on how the content is received by the learner.
Now, here’s my example. Where to begin? This is a train wreck in every possible way. Nevertheless, let’s take a few moments to try and understand what it is about this example that makes a person want to dry-heave and run the other way.
1. The use of the font Comic Sans, or something equivalent.
- Poor Comic Sans. Here’s an example of how popularity and over-use has relegated a font to a place of universal dishonor among graphic designers and developers. I think of Comic Sans like I do Christmas tree tinsel. At certain times of the year, in very specialized settings, and in very, very small amounts, it can add some visual interest. Any more than that causes severe migraines, bleeding eyes, and institutionalization.
2. Any image errors (the use of pixelated pictures, incorrectly resized images, combinations of image formats, etc.)
- There are two types of image formats: vector and bitmap. Vector images (like the police officer image) can be resized indefinitely with zero loss in quality. Bitmaps (like the announcer image) cannot. They have a fixed aspect ratio. Pulling the little resize handles will make them bigger, but it doesn’t make the quality any better.
3. The inclusion of duplicate navigation buttons.
- Here’s an example of where having lots of options isn’t a good thing. When you design a course, you should have a preset notion of what the navigational layout should look like. Make the layout clear and only provide the options necessary to enable the user to move through the course correctly. Any more and you confuse the learner, and possibly introduce programming glitches.
4. A poor navigational layout.
- In courses that are linear in design, your ‘Back’ and ‘Next’ buttons are going to be your primary navigation buttons. They should be easy to see and placed in a convenient and natural location. There aren’t any hard and fast rules for this, but place them in a location that makes sense. English readers will be reading from left to right, so placing those buttons in the bottom right hand corner (next to each other) makes sense because it’s a natural ending point for the eyes. Designing for a tablet? Consider placing the ‘Back’ and ‘Next’ buttons on either side of the slide, so that a person holding the tablet can easily navigate through the training using their thumbs.
5. The use of too many font styles.
- I like to choose a set of fonts—at least one ‘serif’ and one ‘sans serif’—that complement each other. For example: Helvetica and Garamond. This allows me to have some variety and visual contrast in my typefaces without creating glaring distractions. Also, remember to use a font that scales well. A font might look great on the 27-inch super monitor you’re programming on, but might be illegible on the 7-inch tablet the end-user is going to be using.
6. Lack of consistency in the theme.
- A theme should complement the nature of the content being presented. Look at my example. What am I going for here? 1980’s geometric design? Why is there an image of the “Let’s get ready to rumble!” guy. Take a guess as to what this training is about. Nope, you’re wrong. It’s hostage negotiation training. Confused?
- Take a look at the title. It’s subtle, but it’s not centered correctly. It may not bother you now, but fifteen slides into this training it’s all you’re going to notice.
- Screen real estate is a precious thing. Make sure that every element that shows up in your project has a purpose. Anything that isn’t serving a purpose is clutter.
I’m a very visual person, so these are the things that I look for immediately when I take a look at other courses and the things I very purposefully avoid when designing my own. What do you look for? What are some common e-learning mistakes that you would add to this list? Feel free to comment in the section below. Happy building!