The Se7en Pet Peeves of the eLearning Designer

eLearning Design

7 Pet Peeves of the eLearning Designer I’ve felt the chills along my spine couching through sir Alfred classics or contemporary staples like ‘The Ring’ or ‘The Blair Witch Project’. I’ve turned the pages of Lovecraft and King with sweaty hands. My Xbox collection harbors Silent Hill, Resident Evil and the likes. You get the picture - I’m no stranger to the genre. Yet the following list never fails to give me a good case of the shudders. Clench your teddy, hood on your safety blanket and let’s descend.

1. Overexplaining

Every beginning can be as scary as exciting and a friendly shoulder goes a long way. We can ease in the learner if there is anything really specific and unusual about our course, but that’s about it. Anything more than that is plain patronizing and robs the experience of the exploration thrill. There are so many ways to make an interface element intuitive or visually suggest its purpose. Long and obvious explanation points kill the mood at birth.

2. Text-flood

If we have to info-dump on our learners, an interactive eCourse is rarely our weapon of choice. If we need them to read a policy tome through and through, let’s just do it in a plain fashion and be done with it. No need to sugar coat the process – we’re all adults here. What’s more important though is people coming to work, running into issues and then having to make decisions. And that’s where we shine. Better effort-flood a course with real world environments – create scenarios and simulations. Make the thing relevant. All text that is not every-bit-life-savingly necessary should be given as extra reads if at all.

3. Meaningless animations

I know we all think that our eLearning creation should be given the sweet bling. The fairy dust. The sprinkle of life. The more, the better. Unfortunately, animating something for the sake of animation is a waste of time. Ours and the learner’s. Especially if overdone. Maybe we have a screen that falls out of rhythm without an entrance animation. Or a button that just needs that extra visual nudge. It happens sometimes – nobody’s perfect. Move them, but don’t fall into that bottomless trap. Think about how the animation makes the experience better, smoother. Let it be our focusing tool, not our distraction attraction.

4. Locked navigation

This must be the most absurd of the se7en. Everyone lies or cheats in one form or another from time to time, especially when on our own with no one to oversee. It’s human nature. By definition, eLearning is free-will driven – it gives us the freedom to learn on our own time, discretion and place. So isn’t any invasive way of limiting this freedom a paradox? If my navigation is locked I feel like the message it’s sending is “I’ll make you learn this!”. Don’t know about you, but to me this is a total turn-off. So, I’ll follow orders, but with a blocked mind. Or I’ll try and find ways to break out. It’s human nature. The order of a module’s screens is suggestive enough for the learner that they should follow a certain path. There are more creative ways of leading learners through knowledge acquirement than making them a prisoner of someone’s own way of learning. Let them enjoy their freedom and beauty will grow.

5. Narrator reading text on screen

OK, am I dumb, or listening to a person and reading at the same time is really hard? Now add to the complexity that I need to understand/follow/apply/remember what’s being taught. And on top of that do it all out of sync, as no two people read with absolutely the same rhythm and speed. I thought we were supposed to inspire learning, not burden and complicate it. Then again, maybe I’m dumb.

6. Design discrepancy

One of the four pillars of visual design is Repetition and as it is arguably the most important I see it crumbling the most often. User experience is highly dependent on smoothness. Smooth introductions, smooth transitions, smooth riding. The moment style deviates, readability breaks or layout shakes, the learner feels the friction. They may not be able to pinpoint the exact problem, but they all know something’s off. It’s important to be meticulous and help the learner by making her feel at home.

7. Presentation beautification

Sadly an industry standard by now, the conversion of presentations into meaninglessly interactive and nip-tucked counterparts is a curse heavy to lift. Companies not knowing better think that this is what eLearning’s about and designers not capable of better think eLearning should be about that. It is so not. The role of the learner in an instructor-led class is entirely different and that’s what presentations are made for. Constricting to such a format is like growing a baobab at home. There’s so much more that you can do with an individualized eCourse. Let’s embrace it – our learners will thank us for it and so will our company or client.

And yes, I confess. I’ve done it all. But I try to learn from mistakes. So let’s be vigilant. And picky. Let’s do it right.

What are your eLearning pet-peeves? How do you fight them demons?

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