Online learning is booming. U.S. students in traditional K-12 schools have enrolled in 750,000 online courses within a school year, and the numbers are growing. In community colleges, the number of online students has risen to more than 5 million. Some states have expanded policy to encourage more online courses. For instance, 9th graders were required to complete at least one online course before they graduate in Alabama, Florida, Indiana, Michigan, and New Mexico.
How well do you know how a student uses or enjoys an online course? If you want to create the most effective online modules or courses, you’ll need to think like an instructional designer. Even with the best content, a bad user experience can negatively impact a student’s level of engagement and success in an online course. Your content and design should work hand in hand to ultimately create the best experience.
Here are seven essential practices you can learn from instructional designers to help you create and improve online learning.
1. Design for every device. More than 82 percent of high school students are using smartphones, and more than 54 percent use tablets to learn. They’re switching device to device, and your course should adapt to their preferred way of consuming content. When you’re shopping for a CMS or other technology platform to deliver your online courses, having a design that will fit every device is something you should ask from the start. Also, keep in mind that most online users will click off a page if it doesn’t load within three to five seconds.
2. Understand the “F shape.” Nielsen conducted an eye-tracking study to examine web users’ reading behaviors. They found the most dominant reading pattern follows the “F shape”: a horizontal movement across the upper part of the page (the F’s top bar), a second horizontal movement further down the page (but covers a shorter area), and a systematic vertical scan down the left side of the content. Recommended Reading: Nielsen’s F-Shaped Pattern and Examples
3. Get creative with lesson titles. Every lesson and resource should have a clear and unique title, so any learner can guess the content by the tab. Titles should also grab their attention and create intrigue – like “10 Unusual Ways Scientists Use Everyday Things.”
4. Keep the user interface clean and simple. The more white space, the better. The biggest fail in designing online courses is overloading the learner with too much information to process. Add extra white space in the page margins and between paragraphs. A clean interface will help keep the learner focused, instead of dividing their attention.
5. Make it easy to find any topic or lesson. Online navigation is another essential key to a successful course. You want to make it easy for the student to begin or come back to a lesson, or navigate to other sections, without getting frustrated. Create clear categories and tabs for every lesson. With video classes, improve the overall navigation with chapters and bookmarks, which will remember where the student left off.
6. Think more visually. One of the most effective ways to simplify your course is to replace large blocks of text with videos or images. Is there an easier way to convey a concept than long sentences? Find other ways to create more white space by simplifying sentences, using bullets, and creating headers or dividers to break up different sections. According to best design practices, you should avoid using more than three different font colors and sizes. Videos should be short, to reduce file size as well as optimize engagement with the student.
7. Get feedback from students. It’s important to have a way to gather feedback from the student side, so you can understand what’s working (and what needs to change). Use tools or feedback forms on every class page and encourage them to use them as often as possible. Ask learners about their ease in navigating the site and if they have difficulties finding certain pages.