6 Practical Design Principles for Creating a Great User Experience In eCourses

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of teachers and corporate trainers worldwide were suddenly forced to do all of their educating remotely. Versatile authoring tools and eLearning services have made the rapid shift to online learning a lot easier for both teachers and students.

However, when it comes to the quality of online training, it turns out many pandemic-era courses that were put together hurriedly to meet the demands of the situation are not as effective and engaging as offline sessions.

The reason is that online learning is a completely different experience, with its own unique strategies, opportunities, and obstacles.

For example, one of the key obstacles to online learning is distraction. When taking online courses, students are exposed to more distractions than in face-to-face classes. These may include anything from their household chores, children, and pets to social media, TV shows, and video games.

One of the ways to overcome distractions in eLearning is through thoughtful course design. It helps direct the learner’s attention in the eCourse, as well as reducing cognitive load, which can be another cause for distraction. One more reason to put effort into course design is the fact that visual presentation of the content strongly affects how easily learners will be able to learn and apply new information.

In this article, we will elaborate on 6 graphic design principles that will help create a great user experience for your remote learners. These principles include contrast, similarity, proximity, alignment, symmetry, and repetition.

Plan the composition

Composition is the way in which different course elements, like texts, pictures, buttons, videos, and characters are arranged on a slide. Proper composition creates order and hierarchy, and leads the learner along the course, while directing their attention to what’s really important to remember. When the composition is off, the slide looks chaotic and overwhelming.

One of the ways to achieve good composition is to follow the rule of thirds. To understand the principle, simply break up an image into nine parts with two equidistant horizontal and two equidistant vertical lines. Objects that you want a learner to pay attention to should be located along these lines or on their interactions. The rule of thirds is one of the most common rules in photography and cinematography.

Use no more than 3 fonts

In eCourses, 80% of a slide’s content is usually text. For this reason, it’s very important to make the text attractive and readable by using appropriate fonts. 

The rule of the thumb for eCourses is to use no more than 3 fonts: one for headlines, one for subheadings, and one for plain text. Using more than 3 fonts makes a course look untidy and unstructured, and may also wreck your composition. 

Make sure the font you choose for plain text is readable. Sans serif fonts like Arial, Verdana, and Trebuchet are best for reading from the screen — be it of a computer or a smartphone.  

Left-align the text

Another aspect of a text that makes it easy for the learner to absorb and understand information better is alignment. Left aligned (flush left) text is easier to read because the learner’s eyes don’t have to struggle to find where each line begins.

It’s also recommended to leave lots of white space on a slide. Not only does white space make the composition more harmonic and balanced, but it also helps guide the learner’s eye and lead them from one piece of information on a slide to another.

Make sure at least 20% of your slide is white space, and pay special attention to slide margins and space between blocks of text.

Direct attention with contrast

Contrast is one of the indicators of good design. It helps balance the composition, create hierarchy, and direct learners’ attention. It’s in our nature to pay attention to the most noticeable objects first. Then, we can look at things with lower contrast and, if really hooked by the subject, explore every minor aspect of the slide. See for yourself:

To create contrast, you can vary the size, color and position of elements on a slide. Just make sure not to overload your design.

Choose a harmonious color palette

Color helps make your courses more vibrant and captivating. But that doesn’t mean you should make your slides look like a rainbow, because this can make your learners uncomfortable. A more reserved and elegant color palette, on the other hand, will set them up for effective learning.

To create a harmonious color palette, use online services like Coolors or Colorhunt. A general principle for eLearning courses is to choose 3 colors and combine them following the 60–30–10 rule: 60% of a primary color, 30% of a secondary color, and 10% of an accent color.

Follow a consistent style

We’ve all seen courses that look as if they were pieced together from several different PowerPoint presentations. When different styles are combined within a single project, it creates disorientation and chaos. As a result, the learner’s experience is disrupted every time the visual style changes, and they are more likely to drop the course.

On the other hand, following a consistent style creates a sense of order and unity. A learner gets acquainted with course design, rules, and navigation, and can pay more attention to the information in the course rather than its visual style.

Following these principles helps achieve two goals at the same time: create a great UX in your eCourses and improve learning effectiveness. The good news is that the principles listed here are quite easy to implement. A teacher or trainer doesn’t have to be a designer or have an IT background to use them when building online courses. Not to mention that, considering the abundance of online learning resources and content, visually appealing courses are more likely to attract learners’ attention.

Written by Ekaterina Nechaeva, CEMEA Team Lead at iSpring Solutions. Learn more about design principles and connect with iSpring at OEB21.

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