Tip 1: Strive for stand-alone content, screen by screen.
Try to design screen content to avoid having to use several screens to present text on a single concept or thought. Many developers write material for screen presentation just as they would for printed material. While the writing effort, in this case is the same, the reading effort is altogether different. In books, readers can easily scan previously read text on the page and even flip backwards several pages without a major break in concentration. With CBT screens, this becomes, for lack of more descriptive terms, a real pain in the neck!
Although providing an easy means for "backing up" is essential to any CBT or WBT course, writing large amounts of text that spread the content of a single subject over many screens is simply not a good idea. Reading screen text (especially large amounts of it) is more difficult, for some people, than reading printed material, especially for those who wear bifocals. Minimize it where you can.
A good example of what not to do is this particular web site. I've presented many ideas, or tips, on this site and they are all in text. If you have tried to back up to review an idea or tip and then tried to get back to your original place, you probably have some idea of what I'm talking about. Where your course-media needs include sizable amounts of text, consider printed matter as supplementary material for the course.
Tip 2: Design course navigation so that it is as intuitive as you can make it.
Keep this in mind -- each time learners must think about what they have to do next to move ahead in the course, they break concentration with content. Make navigation and the structure of the course as transparent as possible to the learner. For instance, such cues as "click NEXT to continue" are great if you have a button labeled NEXT. That same cue is questionable if your "next button" has only a right-pointing arrow.
Tip 3: Where possible, avoid automatically timed screen changes, unless those changes are timed to follow an audio script.
An example of what-not-to-do is a silent screen where the designer want to reveal points one at a time and chooses to do so with automatically timed changes. There is absolutely no way to know the reading speed of the learner. Here the learner is, midway on the first point and you pop on the second point and distract attention. But that's not enough - the learner is midway through the second point and here comes the third or maybe the forth point popping on. Or even worse, situations that prompt learner's to say to themselves, "this thing is as slow as molasses in January!"
Automatically timed screen changes can disrupt concentration. Don't do it. Give the learner control over screen changes and presentation rate.
Tip 4: Provide clues so that he learner will have some idea of what will happen when they do something.
For example telling learners such things as "Click Next to continue" is great. But how about the situation where the next screen is the first screen of test? In this situation, directions such as "Click Next to continue to the section test" at least prepares the learner for what will happen next. Having surprises when taking CBT or WBT courses can result in learner anxiety. Anxiety is no friend of concentration. Consider potential learner anxiety with respect to the course itself and design to reduce that type of anxiety as much as possible. (Zero is a good and reasonable goal!)
Tip 5: Select screen and text colors for a reason, and use those colors consistently throughout the course.
Much has been written about using colors in CBT and WBT and I won't even attempt to cover all of that material here; there is simply too much. Just be sure to devote sufficient attention to color choices when designing content for CBT or WBT.
Tip 6: When applicable, display the screen's relative location in the learning event so the learner has an idea of "how much more before I'm finished with this section?"
Usually in either a CBT or WBT environment, learners may, at any time, look for answers to questions such as "can I finish this assignment or lesson before lunch?" In cases, where learners know they are one or two screens from the end of a learning event, they may decide to complete the lesson before lunch. If, on the other hand, they know they have been on the lesson for a half an hour and are only half-way through the learning event, they may decide to sign off the course and pick up where they left off - after lunch. Unless you provide some guidance as to where learners are within the learning event, decisions of this sort are essentially made by a flip of the coin and may not be in the best interest of either the learner or the learning event. I believe that continually having to make coin-flip decisions can produce stress which is no friend of learning.
Tip 7: Provide "resume" function so that learners can restart from where they were when they signed off.
Not having a restart built into learning events mean that learners must essentially "start over" when the learning event is interrupted regardless of the cause of that interruption. While lost time is an obvious result, there also can be a degradation of attitude and a subsequent loss in learning.
Tip 8: Don't let the aesthetics of screen design compete with the message of the learning event.
A fancy border and background may look great at a distance but make text harder to read and small pictures more difficult to see. Don't let a zeal to produce Rembrandts get in the way of good instructional material. If you must rely on "bells and whistles" to maintain interest in your course, it could be a sign that there are severe problems with the course itself. Certainly, on the other hand, the lack of attention to screen aesthetics can very well impede learning. Many teams have a graphic artist on the team. That can either be a great asset or a great liability, depending upon the viewpoint of the graphic artist. If a graphic artist has a background in and an understanding of instructional design they will probably be a great asset to the team. If all the graphic artist knows is how to make pretty and catchy screens, then - - well, I think you get the picture. Good design adds to the effectiveness of a course; bad design can definitely detract.
For some excelent design tips, click here for a site I've found and endorse. (Just don't forget to come back!)
Tip 9: Be cautious of humor.
Most humor is regional in nature. Keep in mind that what plays well in one region may be completely offensive in another. There is a fine line between humor and sarcasm. One elicits a smile, the other - anger. In most cases, we can detect the difference because of the body language, facial expression, or vocal inflection of the communicator. In a CBT or WBT environment, these distinguishing characteristics are usually not available. As a result, a comment intended as humor can be interpreted as sarcasm resulting in a combative attitude that can get in the way of learning. Most folks do not do all that well at learning when they're upset or angry. Don't let your course get between your learner and the content!
Tip 10: Provide easy access to a glossary throughout the learning event where applicable.
Will your CBT or WBT learning event introduce terms that may be new or have new definitions to all or part of your audience? If so, consider using hyperlinks or mouse-overs to so that learners can display definitions of new terms when necessary. In cases where it is reasonable to expect a term to be new to your entire audience, define and explain the term when you first use it. However, in cases where terms are new only to part of your audience, consider using a hyperlink that pops up a definition only when the term is clicked or hovered.
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© Pete Blair 2005 - 2017