eLearning provides many benefits over traditional learning, including cost control, 24/7 availability, enhanced collaboration, and appeal to a technologically literate workforce.
A study from Brandon Hall Group found eLearning takes 40 to 60 percent less time than traditional classroom learning, and the Research Institute of America found eLearning increases knowledge retention rates 25 to 60 percent.¹
As a training and development manager, designing eLearning content that improves the user experience is a crucial component of maximizing training effectiveness. As the features available on learning management systems become more diverse and new functionality becomes available, there are many tactics that you can use to improve learner experience by designing content creatively and with purpose.
4 Tips for Designing eLearning Content
1. Reduce Cognitive Load
Cognitive load is the amount of information our brains have to process. During eLearning, cognitive load includes not just the information you’re passing on, but how content is designed as well. To digest materials, learners must take in colors, images, and the technology or interpersonal systems you’re using to deliver content.
While there is a certain essential amount of cognitive load required with any dissemination of information, adding unnecessary details and facts creates an extraneous cognitive load that makes learning more difficult. Decreasing that cognitive load makes it easier for students to remain attentive, and retain information.
Decrease Cognitive Load with Content Chunking
One strategy to reduce cognitive load is content chunking: breaking up large blocks of text to highlight key takeaways and improve retention. Content chunking tactics include:
- Adding visual elements such as images, pictures, or videos
- The addition of section headers or bullet lists
- Highlighted quotations, framed ideas, and links to supplemental reading and additional resources.
Since our short-term memory is limited content chunking also helps prioritize information so critical details are highlighted, and unnecessary information is either eliminated or relegated to a secondary status. It creates smaller, easily-digestible chunks that learners can remember.
Reduce Cognitive Load with Activities
Varying the activity level of the learner is another method for reducing cognitive load. Interspersing interactive elements to break up passive content delivery, can stimulate learners while breaking up content into different pieces. For example, a trainer could insert a quiz or game partway through a training session to reignite engagement and student interest.
2. Make Content feel Personal
We’ve all heard of personalization, but adding an employee’s name to the top of their course usually won’t measurably improve results. Instead, you need to make content feel personal like it was developed specifically for that one individual.
Adapt Content to Feel Personal
Providing highly relevant content that is tailored to each learner will help you achieve higher levels of engagement, retention, and translation to usable skills than a mass-distributed, generic course of training. Techniques for making content feel personal include:
- Making slight changes to content style and language to reflect different geographical locations or regions
- Emphasizing the real-world applications of the skills or knowledge being delivered
- Providing company product, logo or brand-specific content; and integrating stories that are relevant to the content and to the experience of the learner
Create Personalized and Flexible Learning Paths
Courses can be designed to feel personal; however, entire training paths can also be designed to feel personal to learners. For example, a personalized training path can be designed based on corporate objectives to provide the skills and knowledge required for succession planning, or it can be designed by the individual based on their own goals and objectives.
Creating courses that can be integrated into corporate or individual learning paths is an effective method of creating a personalized experience for learners, resulting in higher engagement, improved completion and retention rates, and better motivation and productivity.
Adding interactive elements to training content not only helps reduce extraneous cognitive load, but it also improves the user experience by engaging different parts of the brain, resulting in higher attention spans, improved knowledge retention, and better engagement.
Interactive elements may include:
- The addition of a case study or simulation, where learners can exercise the skills or knowledge delivered in the previous section of the course
- A multiple choice quiz, where learners select the correct answer to a series of questions in order to advance to the next section of material
- Gamification, where users are assigned points, levels or rewards related knowledge or skills assessments
- Collaboration or social learning, where learners interact with one another to discuss and deepen understanding of course content
Interactive elements interspersed with other types of content causes a reaction in the learner, requiring them to apply information gained through training. It requires reflection on the training content that has been disseminated, boosting engagement with the content and retention of information.
By engaging a ‘doing’ region of the brain, as opposed to a ‘listening’ region, interactive elements provide a cognitive break for learners, refreshing them for the next stage of the course.
4. UX Design Elements
Website designers understand the user experience (UX) and how design can influence interactions between users and content.
For example, a designer can use contrast to draw attention to a specific idea. Text that is set apart from the rest of the content by color, size, shape, or the surrounding space sends the brain a signal – ‘this is important!’ This tactic can be applied to training content, where the key point of a particular paragraph, slide, or group is in a different color, in bold print, or is somehow set apart from the rest of the text.
Animation can also spark attention. Have you ever been on a website where an error message appears to shake the screen? It draws your attention to the error so you can correct it. A subtle animation inserted into training content can ignite learner engagement by drawing attention to an idea, message, or element of content.
UX Design Helps Engage Learners
Many UX design tips relate back to the initial point, of reducing cognitive load. A website, or training content, could easily be comprised of a black-and-white webpage that provides information but does so in a way that learners find boring, reducing engagement and the effectiveness of the training itself. Use positive UX design principles to make your eLearning website and content engaging and easy to consume.
Design eLearning Content to Improve Results
Visually-interesting, personalized, interactive, well-designed eLearning content can improve learner engagement, increasing the absorption and retention of information and making it easier to translate skills and knowledge to real-world applications.
A study by IBM found that employee skill levels are directly linked to both productivity and business costs. When teams are well trained, IBM found that they resulted in $70,000 in annual savings and a 10 percent increase in productivity.²
With well-designed eLearning content, training and development programs can ensure their learners have the skills they need to add value to their organizations. Take advantage of improvements in technology and understanding in the psychology and preferences of modern learners to help you to create training that is engaging, entertaining and effective.