The Power of Simplicity


More is better, bigger is better, shinier is better. Not necessarily when it comes to visual aesthetics in human-computer interactions.

Imagine opening a website looking for something specific, when all at once banners and pop-up ads start flashing at you, graphics are whirling, sounds exploding, text is blinking. The effect? You frantically start clicking and closing and minimizing… or you just become overwhelmed or annoyed and leave.

While not necessarily the case with training program design, there are instances when in the hopes of adding more functionality and value, course designers forget about the actual human experience of trainees.

First impressions are everything and looking at a program that does not immediately please us aesthetically makes us less inclined to enjoy interacting with it.

A number of studies have confirmed what we as humans find beautiful and these principles can easily be applied to e-learning programs as well.

While content is still key and needs to be presented in an engaging and digestible way, course design is just as important in improving a training program’s outcomes.

The effect of less

The Zen approach to design, or aiming to achieve the most with minimal means, has been shown to enhance the user experience and ultimately reach better outcomes.

More specifically, eLearning course design should set out to highlight key concepts in an accessible and uncluttered way. Trainees are more likely to concentrate on what matters.

The more distractions a learner is faced with, the more overwhelming the entire process seems. In return, the mind easily gets distracted and the effect of the training program is lost.

This phenomenon can be attributed both to extraneous design and content, which pulls the attention from multiple directions.

To avoid such distractions, e-learning professionals should narrow down the scope of information presented with each following screen.

Weeding out the extras allows the learner to focus on what’s truly important and retain the essential concepts.

Achieving simplicity in course design

Simplicity is not only associated with less content and less variety in graphics, but also with order and consistency.

If the course style changes drastically from one screen to the next, learners may get subconsciously confused or even reluctant to adapt to the new style presented at them.

E-learning professionals should keep in mind that learners expect continuity not only in terms of how content is presented to them, but also in visuals and element organization.

Creating a template that holds together the entire training program and uses specific features throughout will only enhance the learners’ experience with the materials they are presented.

There are a number of elements that can go into a unified course style template:

• Images and graphics

These should not be vector graphics on one screen and full-blown art photography on the next.

In addition, other graphic elements, such as flowcharts, graphs, tables, etc. should display similar consistency in design.

• Fonts and colors

While colors may, in some cases, bring life to dull content, using a pre-selected palette of a limited number of colors is preferable to throwing in any color that looks good individually.

In ideal cases, colors should also have assigned functions so the learner’s eye has another aid in following along with the material.

To keep things simple, a single font family is far better than a number of (often) incompatible ones.

• Buttons and functions

To ease the learners’ experience, course designers should place buttons (save, proceed, help, etc.) and freeze their location for the duration of the course.

It isn’t fun for anyone to be faced with challenging training material and at the same time try to memorize the different functions and buttons again and again for every few screens.

• Titles, headers, and bullets

When a course-taker first glances at a new screen, they should be able to identify what they are

looking at without reading. Is it a new concept? Is it an illustration or an example? Is it the same idea from the previous screen, continued?

The systematic use of a unified system of markers should help along, not additionally confuse. Beauty is not the sole purpose of aesthetically pleasing e-learning design.

It is a powerful tool for enhancing the entire learning experience and make content flow more easily, eliminate distractions and ultimately improve learning outcomes.

Have you found that simple design works for you? In which areas of course design are you having trouble when it comes to simplifying? What are your own strategies for making e-learning more effective?

We’d love to hear back from you in the comments section below.

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