Here’s a challenge many of us face. We want to create engaging and interactive elearning courses. But because of customer requests or limited resources, we have to cut corners and end up with visually boring elearning courses filled with nothing but bullet points.
The good news is that even if you are in a crunch, there is a lot that you can do to enhance the visual presentation and actually make a better learning experience.
Make Your Course Content Visually Memorable
Garr Reynolds of Presentation Zen has a good post comparing a recent presentation by Bill Gates with that of Steve Jobs. In the post, he discusses what makes a good presentation and offers lot of insight that you can apply to your elearning courses.
Reynolds argues that the Jobs presentation is more effective. I agree, and think Jobs’ slides are better because they are:
- visually interesting
- less cluttered
- formatted with smaller chunks of information
Considering what we discussed earlier about cognitive loads, you can already see how this approach is effective for elearning. The learner is better able to understand and process the information, making it more memorable.
Compared to many other presentations, the Gates version is not bad. We don’t want to be critical of the slides. However, comparing the two presentations, it’s easy to see how a simplified screen with very specific points is more visually appealing and easier for the learner to digest.
Fine Tune Your Content
Remember, people can only retain so much information at one time. So, it’s important to design your elearning courses (even simple ones) so that the learner can recall as much as possible.
For example, he compares the two images below. The first is common to many of today’s screens. By itself, the heading isn’t very clear and requires extra processing to figure out what it means and how it’s connected to the rest of the information.
Compare that to the second image which Cliff says, "…quickly signals what you’re talking about, intrigues people to listen to the words you’re saying and the visuals you’re showing, and frees them from the burden of excess information they don’t have the time to process…"
For additional reading, Dennis Coxe has a good post on cognitive overload and even provides a link to Seth Godin’s, "Really Bad PowerPoint (and how to avoid it)" ebook. While the focus of the ebook is on presentations, you’ll find that there are many parallels to information-based elearning courses.
E-Learning Courses Are Different Than Live Presentations
Personally, I prefer the Jobs approach. I think that the screens are easier to digest and with good narration, the content is probably more memorable. With that said, the Gates slides can also be effective.
The slides are not optimized for a live presentation. There’s too much information and noise that distracts from the presentation. However, in an elearning course there are things you can do to lessen the cognitive load.
While there are a lot of similarities between presentations and elearning courses, one key difference is that presentations are typically focused on live events, while elearning courses aren’t. This means that the live audience doesn’t have the luxury of a rewind button and makes targeting the presentation content much more critical.
Elearning courses are asynchronous and the learners have the ability to stop and review critical pieces of information. They also have the advantage of retaking a course and getting additional exposure to the content, something that you can’t do in a live session. In addition, you can create targeted questions and assessments in the elearning course to measure the learner’s understanding and provide remedial information and feedback.
Here’s a quick demo where I take the same narration and present it four different ways. What you’ll notice is that to lessen the cognitive load you can:
- progressively reveal information
- condense the text on the screen
- replace text with relevant images
Both the Jobs and Gates slides are primarily information-based and not very interactive. While that’s the case, it doesn’t mean that the course can’t be effective. The combination of nice visual design with text and narration that eases cognitive load makes your course much more memorable and effective.
In fact, if you embrace these ideas, your course can become more than an information dump. Listen to what Cliff, Garr, and Seth have to say and you’ll really add some power to those points.