Digital learning design: More than a colour scheme & fonts

When thinking of digital learning design, our minds tend to default to a visual array of images, colours, fonts and layouts. There is nothing incorrect with this mindset. However, when it comes to overall design there are some extra considerations you should make.

 

Digital learning design should:

 

Be built on relevancy

We all know that instructional design focuses on learner’s needs. Your visual design should do the same. Tailoring your design to the learner’s needs should be your primary goal. This includes understanding the device your learners will use, accessibility needs they may have, and their level of familiarity with the subject matter. In understanding the audience, you can tailor the experience to better suit them. This includes establishing interactivity that supports the experience and comprehension.
 

Focus on a clutter-free experience

Content, imagery and navigational elements should contrast to balance user comprehension. This clutter-free digital learning design will ensure accessibility, ease-of-use and access throughout the course. Remember, white space is a digital designers best friend. A clear, clutter-free environment guides learning and will establish focal points in the course.
 
Too much information or too many visuals can create user confusion, visual burden, and a quick loss of user engagement and interest. Learning new skills in itself can be a challenge. So you shouldn’t make it more of a challenge through visual complexity. The age-old statement stands true: less is more.
 

Maintain visual and thematic consistency

Tie together visual elements, whether they appear on the same slide or at different stages throughout the course. Using levels of consistency, such as content grouping, colours, images etc. should be maintained throughout the course. Colour consistency doesn’t mean to use the same colour palette, but to use the same colours with the same associated context. For example, highlighting content with a particular colour for emphasis throughout the course.
 
Imagery used throughout a course should maintain a consistent look and feel. Visuals should establish a connection and maintain an association with the theme. This will assist with carrying the story from start to finish smoothly Mismatched images will stick out and distract learners from the on-screen content, creating a gap in the learning experience.
 
Another essential area of consistency in digital learning design is fonts. Fonts, sizes, styles, grouping and spacing should be consistent throughout your course. This will aid understanding through grouping and hierarchy.

 

Balance audio with visuals

This concept seems itself very simplistic. However, it paramount in digital learning design – so is worth a mention. The use of audio within a course is very common, for example, voice over narration of content or sound effects. But its important that any audio used enhances the course, rather than distracting your learners. Unnecessary sounds can pull learners’ attention away from the learner content, as they try to figure out the point of the distracting audio. Use audio, but use it wisely.
 
 

Optimise functionality

Often overlooked, a key component of design includes optimising the functionality of a course. What exactly does this mean? Well, the functionality of your course includes all interactions, multimedia and navigation. Each of these should be used properly and with purpose. You should present user engagement and interaction that is somewhat expected and feels natural. Holistically, optimising functionality should span to any element of interaction or user engagement contained within a course no matter how minuscule.
 
 
So, there you have it – my whistle-stop guide to effective digital learning design. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but its a great starting point to ensure you design courses your learners will love.
Editor’s note: This blog was originally published in 2015, but has been updated for clarity.