When I talk about visual design in online training, I talk about simple things a designer can do to lay out a slide so that it makes the most of evidenced-based instructional design techniques that maximize learning. I am not a huge stickler for visual design in online training. The reason might be because I am not a graphic designer. But neither are most instructional designers.
In other words, I am much less interested in “how it looks” than I am about how an online training course can be organized to maximize learning outcomes. Although visual design is important, it is not necessarily so important that we need to hire a graphic designer every time we design an online training course, nor is it necessary to spend the massive amount of time it would take to learn graphic design (Unless of course you want to. It is certainly an incredibly valuable skill to have).
I believe if learning objectives are written properly, and you follow a short list of visual design techniques, your online courses will look better AND improve learning outcomes.
For this short list, you need to look no further than Ruth Clark’s book, eLearning and the Science of Instruction, in which she details many evidenced-based design techniques that will improve people’s ability to learn from your online training courses.
Here are two techniques that I find especially important for improving the visual design of your online training courses. And they are easily doable for a non-graphic designer like me.
Mistake #1: A Random Graphic (Just to Have a Graphic)
Since most of us are not graphic designers, and we hate to just have text on a slide, we find some clip art or stock image and place it on a slide. The problem is placing a graphic on a slide that has no relevance to the content is distracting and can actually detract from the learning. Furthermore, it can look odd to see a picture of a mountain sunset, when the content of a page is about a new product feature. You should only use graphics that relate specifically to the content. For example, a screen shot of the new product feature or a picture of a person using the new feature. A picture can enhance learning and be visually appealing, if it is related directed to the content.
Mistake #2: An Entire Screen of Text and Audio Narration
One of the worst things you can do to a learner in an online training course is to display a slide that contains long paragraphs of text that covers most of the screen. It screams, “Click Next.” This is especially a problem for learners when there is audio narration. Imagine how distracting it is to listen to audio narration, while at the same time trying to read the text on the page. Clark cites evidence in her book that this overloads a learner and negatively impacts learning. The solution is to remove the text entirely, place a relevant graphic, diagram, figure, or table and have the narration explain the diagram.
Keep it Simple
Visual design improvements can be made without a creative director and a team of graphic designers. The key to improving the visual design of your online training courses AND improve learning outcomes is to simplify what you display and not overload the learner.
What visual designs in online training courses drive you crazy? How should a designer correct them?
Bill Cushard, author, blogger, and learning experience (LX) designer, is a human performance technologist (HPT) with extensive, in-the-trenches experience building learning organizations at companies like E*TRADE and Accenture. You can follow him on Twitter or on Google+.