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Designing for Efficient Learning

In e-learning, visualizing and arranging content impacts directly on the quality of teaching and learning. ’The way in which content is presented’ paves the very path to ‘efficient perceptive visual-learning’, says Olimpius Istrate in his paper on ‘Visual and Pedagogical Design of e-Learning Content’.  The main objective to be kept in mind when designing for e-learning is to support the comfort and confidence of the learner and most importantly, to ensure that the learning performance is heightened. While the paper continues dwelling further into the principles of visual design for e-learning, we extracted some knowledge-nuggets – that not only make an interesting read but have immense potential for practical application.

  • Interestingly, the evolution of e-learning can be compared to the evolution of cinema. Early movie makers strived to make movies as close to the experience of theater. The rationale behind it was simple- it was an experience that had an established audience. In time, they realized that cinema had its own potential. Similarly, in the early days of e-learning, content was designed keeping traditional learning environments in mind (a classroom and a teacher or an Instructor).Course content was poured into a standard format – often a PowerPoint Presentation – and the Learner was expected to grasp the essence of it, as he or she would sitting in a classroom. But today, it is unanimously agreed upon that content design for e-learning is certainly different – understanding the potential and the limitations of the platform is extremely necessary.
  • The analysis of content design – including text, iconic or symbolic plans or use of multimedia – can be conducted in many ways. Some of the pointers provided can be useful in ascertaining the effectiveness of learning material.
  • A balance between the information provided and the explanation given has to be attained.
  • An overload of informative text is constrictive to effective learning. Relaxation moments, monotony breakers and attention getters have to be anticipated. Visuals, practical examples and multimedia can all be utilized to form the above attributes.
  • The content should allow horizontal (the bird’s eye view) as well as vertical (detailed knowledge) transfer of information.
  • The channel of learner interaction should be available – enabling discussions on queries, suggested further reading or even an assessment on the learning material provided.
  • ‘Principles of text organization make conditions optimum for the body of knowledge to be best assimilated by the learner’. Some of the basic of these principles are-
  • Predictability and regularity: Design standards, once established, have to be maintained throughout all course units. These standards include image or logo positioning, positioning of names to ascertain hierarchy or even color associations. This predictability is said to bring sharp and rapid focus in the mind of the learner.
  • A sense of direction in content: The ‘table of contents’ should be able to give the learner a fair idea about the entire course. It is from this page that the learner decides his/her direction of learning. The design style needs to keep this in mind.
  • Inclusion of lists and tables: Tables or graphs help give a visual perspective to complex information. Bullets are suggested when listing information. Left alignment is preferred as it holds more attention. Also lists which are arranged vertically appeal more to the eye.
  • Balance and Simplicity: A balance between the text and visuals used in a page is important. An onslaught of text and images, however pertinent, if brought on together in a single page can impair learning. Keeping it simple is also a virtue in design. Awe-inspiring visuals or other design elements can look great by themselves. But if they do not find their place in the overall style of design in the course, they do not contribute to learning.
  • Use of Color: Color schemes and their effects on learners is a topic of interest for many researchers in the field of learning.
  • At the text level, the science of ‘chromatic contrasts’ can be used. Chromatic colors have hues and contrasts of these colors are said to be highly effective in increasing interest and retaining it. Black on yellow, Red on white, Green on white, and White on blue – these are some contrast considered apt in terms of contrast.
  • Stronger contrasts should be used for the visualization of essential knowledge (For example, course summary or the table of contents) while less strong contrasts can be appropriate for content information or the ‘theory’ part of the course.
  • Color scheme of visuals too has its relevance. A picture in grey tones or in black and white has a strong impact – is more visible, is more dramatic and is more suggestive. That is why black and white portraits are commonly used to represent ‘people’ or a ‘person’. On the other hand, colors are better suited when presenting a graph or a map.
  • Background colors too have an important role to play. It is a common belief that they influence behavior in the learner by triggering emotions, intentions and attitudes.  For example-
    • Red is an exciter, it propels one to action and is an intellectual stimulator.
    • Yellow infuses warmth and a sense of inclusion. It encourages feeling of camaraderie
    • Blue is the color of calm and reverie. It is considered ‘serious’ and is often the preferred color when designing for corporate learners
    • White represents vastness. It evokes calm and serenity. It is also considered to represent robustness – again a preferred choice for corporate learners.

While science and research can put forth the guidelines for design, it is also necessary to consider the other aspects – like learner perspective, the learning objectives and the overall tone or other nuances to be followed during designing for an e-learning course. As the author aptly says, ‘Designing is a mix of science and art’ – when the mix is right, the result is truly potent.

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