The Rapid Elearning Blog

Archive for February, 2010

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - contrast to communicate

Contrast is a key part of your course design.  In fact, it’s one of the foundational principles in visual design.  Many people know the acronym, CRAP (or CARP if you’re an ichthyolatrist) which stands for: contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity.  They are the four essential design elements.

Contrast allows you to distinguish the content on the screen.  It helps the learner navigate what’s there, discern relationships, and determine what’s most important.  There are a lot of ways to create contrast.  Let’s look at a few simple examples.

Contrasting Text

The images below are from a previous where I discussed a few graphic design principles.  Both images have the same information.  However, by creating titles, body text, bold text and underlines I’m able to organize the information and provide direction for the learner. Without more than a few design elements I communicate how the information is organized.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - all the text is the same

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - contrast can create distinction and order

Contrasting Size & Proximity

There are other ways to create contrast—size being one of them.  One way is by changing the font size.  You can see it in the image above and in the text of this blog post.  The heading title is larger than the rest of the text.  This lets you quickly scan the titles and make an assumption about how the information is organized and what it contains.

In the image below, there are two characters.  However, most people are first drawn to the lady in the front because of her position and size in relationship to the other person.  She is the focal point of the scene and can communicate being the main character.  Most likely the first question is, “Why is she so happy?”

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - size and proximity

Contrasting Color

Another great way to create contrast is through the use of color.  In the example below, I used the bright yellow highlight to focus on a single point of information.  This could be a good technique for those times when your client gives you a text heavy slide and isn’t willing to budge.  This would really work well combined with animation and audio.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - use color for contrast

To show how color can change the meaning of the content, let’s revisit the earlier image.  By turning the color off of everything but one character, the point of focus now is the colorized person.  So instead of asking why the first lady is happy, we might be wondering what’s wrong with the second lady and why she appears upset.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - contrasting color can draw your attention

A bonus tip is emotion.  In the image one person is happy, while the other has a smirk.  What’s the story there?

Contrast is a powerful way to communicate ideas and an effective way to use your graphics.  There are all sorts of ways to use contrast in your design, and not just with your graphics.  With your next course, make a deliberate attempt to use it and see what happens.

What are some ways you’ve used contrast in your elearning design?  Do you have any good examples?  Feel free to share them via the comments link.


Free E-Learning Resources

Want to learn more? Check out these articles and free resources in the community.

Here’s a great job board for e-learning, instructional design, and training jobs

Participate in the weekly e-learning challenges to sharpen your skills

Get your free PowerPoint templates and free graphics & stock images.

Lots of cool e-learning examples to check out and find inspiration.

Getting Started? This e-learning 101 series and the free e-books will help.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - roadmap for elearning

When we’re new and just getting started with elearning, we need templates and project plans to guide us.  On the other hand, experienced developers rely less on those resources because they have more experience and a deeper understanding of what it takes to create an elearning course.

Think of it like driving around town. When I first moved to town, I needed a map.  But today, I don’t use a map.  In fact, even when I look for streets with which I’m unfamiliar, I can avoid using a map because I have a big picture understanding of the town’s layout and crossroads.

On top of that, if I run into a road block, I can quickly make adjustments to my route.  However, if I was following a print out with directions, once I hit a roadblock, I’d be stuck.  And as my wife would say, I’d be stuck there a long time reluctant to ask for directions. 🙂

Templates are fine, but they’re based on practiced routines rather than solving problems.  This is OK when getting started, but practiced routines can be constricting because the focus is on conforming to the routine rather than solving the problem.

We see that a lot of this in our industry that relies so heavily on templates, ADDIE project plans, style guides, and stringent branding requirements.  Reliance on these rigid guidelines doesn’t always fit the needs of the elearning project and in many cases leads to inferior course design.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - 3 part overview of course design

Today, instead of offering a project plan or template for elearning, I thought I’d offer a basic project structure for a course.  Think of it like a big picture project plan.  To keep it simple, let’s break the course structure into three main chunks.

  • Visual design: determine the look and feel of the course
  • Information design: determine what content belongs in the course
  • Activity design: how the learner applies or interacts with the course content

Visual Design: How Will The Course Look?

The two images below come from a recent CrunchGear article.  Don’t worry about what the products do or the merits of one product over another.  If you only had five minutes to play with one device, which one would it be?

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - Apple iPad compared to Amazon Kindle

If you’re like me, you’d choose the one on the left.  It’s colorful and inviting.  I want to pick it up and start playing with it.  The other one just doesn’t look as inviting.  Think about your course design.  Is it inviting from the start?

Design matters.  It conveys to the learner that what they’re doing is important and worth their time. Consider yourself a set designer for a Broadway play.  You are given a limited amount of space, and in it you need to create an immersive experience.  Your goal is pull the learner into the course first by capturing their attention and then by creating a learning environment that is both relevant to the content and engaging to the senses.   I like this quote about set design:

“The scenographer visually liberates the text and the story behind it, by creating a world in which the eyes see what the ears do not hear.”

This doesn’t have to be complicated.  We’re not all professional graphic artists.  But there is room for us to place more emphasis on the visual design of our elearning courses.

Below are before and after examples both created in PowerPoint.  The first example is typical of what you might see in a rapid elearning course.  The second version is the same content.  The design is more interesting and relevant to content.  In addition, instead of a sterile white slide, it’s more like walking into the forest to learn more.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - before and after examples

Information Design: What Do People Need to Know?

A great looking course is only one part of the process.  You need to have great content to go with it.  Assembling the content rests on a few core areas:

  • Clear objectives: understanding desired results and how to get there
  • Appropriate content: information that supports the learning objectives
  • Relevance: information is meaningful and relevant to the learner

There are all sorts of models and ways to collect the information you need for a course.  Your course content is determined by your objectives.  To determine your objectives, you look at your current results and compare them to where you need to be.  The comparison should identify a gap.  This helps keep your objectives performance-based and is the basis for how you measure success.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - filling the gap between current and desired performance

Once you know where you need to be, you determine why you’re not getting there.  What does the learner need to do that’s different than what they do today?  This information helps you gather the right content for the course and build the right type of course.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - determine what the learner needs to know and do to change performance

Activity: How Will Learners Apply the Information?

The tendency in elearning is to design courses focused on information.  These tend to be the dreaded click-and-read courses, where the learner just clicks a next button to advance.  Ideally, the course is less about the information and more about how the learner uses the information.  This keeps the course meaningful and relevant.

This doesn’t mean that the course needs to have all of the bells and whistles.  Instead, the focus is on getting the learner to use the course content which can happen in all sorts of ways.

Ways to Apply Information

  • Case studies & scenarios: Present some problem solving exercises and activities.  You can make these as simple or complex as you like. The main point is to give the learner a way to use the information and get feedback.
  • Blended approach: Mix elearning with real-world activities where they get the core information online and then it’s integrated in some team or class discussions and exercises.  I designed a courses once where we emailed case studies for a manager to review with his new hires after they went through the basic elearning course.
  • Social media: There are all sorts of ways to make social media part of the elearning process.  Have the learners work through exercises via a wiki or discussion forum.  You could challenge each learner to present one new thing learned and how it can be applied on the job.

This is a basic overview of designing an elearning course.  The three areas are not exclusive.  They go hand-in-hand; and together they make a complete course.  When you build your next course, ask:

  • Is the course inviting? Does the look and feel of the course support the content?
  • What information does the learner need?
  • What do I expect them to do with that information? Can they do it in the course?

If you keep this simple framework in mind, you’ll be on the road to creating effective and engaging elearning courses.  What other tips would you offer to someone just getting started?  How about good book ideas? Click on the comments link to share your thoughts.


Free E-Learning Resources

Want to learn more? Check out these articles and free resources in the community.

Here’s a great job board for e-learning, instructional design, and training jobs

Participate in the weekly e-learning challenges to sharpen your skills

Get your free PowerPoint templates and free graphics & stock images.

Lots of cool e-learning examples to check out and find inspiration.

Getting Started? This e-learning 101 series and the free e-books will help.

 The Rapid E-Learning Blog - add personality to your course

In a previous post, I shared some free handwritten fonts.  Today, we’ll explore how you might use them in your elearning courses.

We already looked at how fonts are more than the text you read.  As a graphic element, they convey meaning and play a role in the message you communicate. That means you always have to consider what visual cues the text provides in addition to what is being read.

A Few Examples

Below are images from some web sites that include the use of handwritten fonts.  Look them over and consider what value they bring to the screen.  How would those sites be different if the font used was not handwritten?

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - barista example

Barista iPhone App

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - corkboard example


The Rapid E-Learning Blog - Kathy Sierra example

Creating Passionate Users

Handwritten fonts can draw attention to important parts of the screen, add a sense of personality, and speak to the user in more personal and informal tone.  It’s as if the instructor is letting you in on some personal notes, giving you extra information.  Kind of like the director’s commentary on DVD.  Because of this, handwritten fonts can add value to your elearning course.

When to Use Handwritten Fonts

Below are some tips to help you determine why and when you might use them.

  • Novelty can contribute to engagement.  Most courses have a generic and familiar look.  Combine handwritten fonts with a less familiar look and you’ve got a course that stands out.  The cork board example above could easily be the design theme for an elearning course.
  • Add a human touch.  Handwritten fonts can draw the learner in and make it seem like the information is a bit more personal.  Augment the screen content with a personal note and it appears as if you’re speaking past the course and directly to the learner.
  • Instead of black, use a dark gray.  It warms up the “ink.”  I’d also look at common marker colors.  Bold colors probably work better than those that are gentle or subdued.  Plus, colors have their own meanings.  Like red, which can imply an error or command attention.
  • Use strong contrast.  You really want the handwriting to stand out.  That’s where the bold marker colors come in handy.  The effect works well on the third image above because she used black and white images with colored handwritten fonts and arrows.
  • Rotate the text slightly.  Never leave the text perfectly horizontal, it’ll look more natural.  Kathy Sierra from Creating Passionate Users also once suggested adding hand drawn lines to the handwritten fonts to make the font seem more real.  That’s why I included a free font set with some hand drawn lines.
  • Contrast formal and informal content.  For example, the course content is represented with a traditional font, but when you want to pull out some key points or “did you know” text, handwritten fonts work well.
  • Change the tone or voice of the course.  By changing from a formal font to the handwritten font, you create a visual cue for the learner.  An example of this might be where you transition from the formal course content to a case study.  The case study is pointed to the learner so the tone of the content changes and comes across as more personal and less generic.
  • Create a sense of urgency.  Striking through some text and overwriting it with a handwritten font implies urgency or possibly an important last-minute change.  It definitely stands out and makes you notice the change.

I applied some of the tips in the image below.  The handwritten text represents the answer to a question.  It contrasts with the question text.  The red also helps the answer stand out and is probably the first thing most learners will focus on.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - handwritten font example

Add personality to your elearning course with handwritten fonts.  The contrast helps you focus on key information and they can create a more personal setting.  They can help step away from that common corporate look.

Do you know of some good examples of elearning courses that include handwritten fonts?  Feel free to share your thoughts by clicking on the comments link.


Free E-Learning Resources

Want to learn more? Check out these articles and free resources in the community.

Here’s a great job board for e-learning, instructional design, and training jobs

Participate in the weekly e-learning challenges to sharpen your skills

Get your free PowerPoint templates and free graphics & stock images.

Lots of cool e-learning examples to check out and find inspiration.

Getting Started? This e-learning 101 series and the free e-books will help.

 The Rapid E-Learning Blog - what makes elearning effective?

E-learning is hot. And for good reason. If done right, it can produce great results by decreasing costs and improving performance. Also, unlike a one time classroom session, the elearning course is available for others.  This includes the static elearning course as well as any ongoing conversations in networked communities.

Recently, I had a conversation with someone new to elearning and it struck me that she didn’t fully understand the value of elearning.  I think this is common as more people are joining the world of elearning.  Understanding elearning’s value helps you make the best decisions about when and why to use it. 

E-learning Supports the Organization’s Goals

 The Rapid E-Learning Blog - elearning supports the organization

  • Improved training costs.  Producing learning content is time consuming whether it’s online or not.  With elearning, each time the course is accessed your return on investment improves because you are dividing the fixed production costs by number of uses.  You also have savings through decreased travel, reduced material, and hopefully improved (and more efficient) performance.

  • Decreased material costs.  Let’s say you have to train how to arrange equipment in a sterile environment like an operating room.  If you had to use the real environment, it would be costly.  Even setting up a fake environment has material costs and labor.  By creating the environment online and letting the learner practice, you never have to worry about the costs associated with set up, use, and clean up.

  • Increased productivity.  Because elearning is not bound by geography or time, you can control training’s impact on production by training people during down times.  In addition, with the current economy, you’re asking people to do more with less.  So elearning is a great way to give them the tools and skills needed to enhance their performance.

  • Standardization.  You may have a great facilitator, but that’s no guarantee that the courses are presented the same across sessions.  Elearning allows you to create a standardized process and consistency in the delivery of content.  It also compresses delivery time.  I’ve combined elearning courses with facilitated sessions.  Elearning delivered consistent content.  Live sessions were interactive case studies that applied the information.

E-learning Supports the Learner’s Development

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - elearning supports the learner

  • Real-time access.  Live learning events require that those who participate align their schedules to the training calendar.  Elearning eliminates this because the course can be accessed anytime, anywhere.  This can also happen without Internet access.  I saw a Red Cross demo where the learners accessed the content on a PC out in the field and uploaded their results when they were back online.
  • Freedom to fail.  Let’s face it, real learning requires some failure.  But no one likes to fail in a classroom full of other people.  Elearning lets you fail without fear.  This encourages exploration and testing of ideas.  With the right feedback you create a great learning environment.  Worst case, you can always start over.  Something you can’t always do in class.
  • Improved retention.  The combination of multimedia and instructional design can produce a very rich learning experience that is repeatable.  Throw in some good practice activities with feedback and you have a learning environment that’s going to help your learners retain the course content which will produce results.
  • Personalized learning.  Look out the window at your parking lot.  My guess is that you’ll see a dozen or more different cars.  They all do the same thing, yet we have personal opinions about what we want to drive.  The same for learning.  Learners want control.  Elearning allows you to offer control to the learners in a way that classroom learning doesn’t.

E-learning Nurtures a Learning Organization & Community

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - elearning supports the community

  • Ongoing access to resources.  If you take a class in the real world and need a refresher, you better hope that you took good notes.  Otherwise, you’re out of luck.  That’s not the case with elearning.  Ideally, you continue to have access to the online content and resources to brush up on what you learned. 
  • Knowledge management.  Many people see elearning as only the authored courses.  But elearning includes all sort of online technologies.  If you incorporate some of the tools that allow collaboration and conversation, you can capture organizational knowledge that is available for future learners.
  • Encourage sharing.  The foundation of a learning community is built on sharing what you know with others.  This is where incorporating a forum or wiki really adds value to your elearning.  Depending on how the course is structured, you can encourage sharing of resources and insight gained from the course. 
  • Employer of choice.  People want opportunities to grow.  A cafeteria with high fat foods is one way.  Another is a catalog with all sorts of elearning courses.  This allows them to explore other opportunities in the organization.  During downtime, it would be great to spend fifteen minutes learning to better manage meetings or improve working with peers.  Offering these opportunities to learn makes you a place people want to stay.

 The Rapid E-Learning Blog - elearning is good for the environment 

  • Elearning is good for the environment.  Britain’s Open University’s “study found that producing and providing distance learning courses consumes an average of 90% less energy and produces 85% fewer CO2 emissions per student than conventional face-to-face courses.”   

One of the challenges with making elearning effective is how you manage the courses and access to resources.  I’m an advocate of freeing up the course navigation and giving the learner more control.

If you’re using a learning management system you might consider how that impacts the learning.  Do people have access to the resources when the course is complete?  Can they retake it?  Are you punishing them for failing?

Elearning is cost effective and can produce great results.  It’s all a matter of how you use it.  Where do you see elearning’s effectiveness?  What suggestions would you offer to those who are just getting started?  Feel free to share your ideas via the comments link.


Free E-Learning Resources

Want to learn more? Check out these articles and free resources in the community.

Here’s a great job board for e-learning, instructional design, and training jobs

Participate in the weekly e-learning challenges to sharpen your skills

Get your free PowerPoint templates and free graphics & stock images.

Lots of cool e-learning examples to check out and find inspiration.

Getting Started? This e-learning 101 series and the free e-books will help.