Anyone looking to learn more about comprehensive design can read the book Universal Principles of Design, which features more than 200 descriptions in alphabetical order along with images to aid the explanations. For those interested just in those concepts that are most relevant to eLearning design, this post sums up some of the most important definitions.
In eLearning design, accessibility involves designing objects and environments in a way that provides access to as many people as possible. Course creators also need to take information retrieval into consideration by presenting facts in a format that does not require learners to rely on a single sense or ability. Designing with both these aspects of accessibility in mind enhances the effectiveness of training for learners.
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The aesthetic-usability effect refers to how users perceive more aesthetic designs as easier to use than those that are less aesthetic. Aesthetic designs create a positive mindset in users, allowing learners to become more productive, complete tasks faster, and achieve results more effectively. This is important for eLearning design, where one of the main aims of course creators is to keep users engaged for as long as possible.
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- The Impact of Design and Aesthetics on Usability, Credibility, and Learning in an Online Environment
The technique of chunking involves combining many units into a smaller number of chunks. This makes details easier to process and remember in the working memory — the area of the brain that manipulates information. Along with good design elements, chunking helps eLearning course appear less overwhelming, especially to learners with limited knowledge on the subject.
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Consistency alludes to the logical coherence or uniformity among aspects of the course; for instance, usability is enhanced and information is more learnable when similar aspects are presented in a similar form. Consistency also helps users transfer current knowledge to new concepts, to learn new things faster, and to focus their attention on the relevant aspects of tasks. In eLearning design, content, interaction, and navigation should be consistent to avoid a cognitive overload.
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By definition, hierarchy is the order in which the elements within a composition are viewed by the eye. Or in other words, the order of importance. A hierarchical organization communicates the relative importance of elements in a given display to learners by using factors such as scale, color, and placement. It is the simplest way to visualize and understand complexity, making it one of the most important principles in eLearning design.
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Good legibility in eLearning design means that users are able to read text without difficulty. This is dependent on factors such as size, typeface, contrast, text block, and spacing of characters. Learners should also be able to easily distinguish one letter from another due to the character width and shape, weight, ascender and descender length, counter size, and stroke contrast of typeface.
Performance load, also called the path of least resistance or the principle of least effort, refers to the concept that the greater effort needed to accomplish a task, the lower the likelihood of success. In order to be successful with eLearning design, course creators need to minimize the load as much as possible. There are two types of load that relate to performance:
- Mental effort, or cognitive load. This is the amount of mental activity needed to accomplish a goal. Minimizing this load involves strategies such as chunking, minimizing visual noise, and using memory aids.
- Physical effort, or kinematic load. eLearning developers should take into account that learners will use the most convenient search method and least exacting mode, no matter their proficiency as a searcher or level of subject expertise.
Picture Superiority Effect
Learners remember, recognize, and recall pictures more easily than words. In fact, researchers have suggested that images are at least six times more powerful than words and have named this phenomenon the picture superiority effect. This has implications for eLearning design, suggesting that course creators should include visuals strategically to improve learning.
Readability refers to the degree to which learners can understand prose. If the text can't be read, then your material simply fails to deliver. Since readability is an essential aspect of comprehension, it's necessary to consider the ease with which students can read the text. Readability is split into:
- Contextual readability — how well a reader understands text due eLearning developer’s the choice of words, including the number of syllables in words, as well as sentence length and complexity.
- Visual — how well a reader can see text and send the message to the brain for processing.
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Good visibility leads to improved usability; for instance, the way a course is designed indicates the possible actions a user can perform and the consequences of these actions once performed. In addition, feedback should appear upon a loading screen within a reasonable time informing the learner what is going on (such as uploading course files, sending a confirmation message, or exporting data). This avoids learners seeing simply a blank screen.