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5 Design Techniques to Improve Upon Online Learning

People learn every day–whether that’s learning a new skill, finding information on a new topic, or going through training of some sort. A lot of this learning takes place online. People access instructional articles and videos through their mobile devices and sign in to online courses or training through their laptop/desktop computers.

So with the steady increase of students enrolling in online courses, consider this: how do you design an online course in order to enhance the learning experience?

Let’s think about physical textbook design for a moment. A few things that textbook designers do to spice up a textbook are:

  • Adding pictures to accompany the text
  • Including graphs to illustrate a point
  • Providing links to video or audio files for further investigation

The design of an online course is not much different. However, an online course can be a lot more engaging and interactive when compared to a physical textbook.

Which brings up an important point: conversion. Most online courses are based on physical source material. But just because you have articles, books, or even Power Points that illustrate points beautifully with tons of text doesn’t mean you just drop these materials into the online environment, hoping the learners will take it all in. It doesn’t work that way. Instead, try the following five techniques in the design of your online course. They will definitely help.

Introducing Videos

Just like a physical textbook might include a written link to a video that better illustrates a point, it’s never a bad idea to include a video in your online content. It’s especially important to use it as a break or change from the content.

Videos aren’t automatically engaging for the learner. They need to be well-designed. Some good practices of making a well-designed video are: make sure it’s quick, addresses the issue in a fun and engaging manner, and is decent quality.

This 3 Easy Methods to Create eLearning Videos article covers some important points on designing video.

The Use of White Space

Huge blocks of text with little white space can overwhelm the learner. Break apart your paragraphs. Write your content in a way that makes it read more smoothly and appear less than it actually is. Your learners will be more likely to engage with it in a calm, collected way.

Clear Navigation

We’ve all been in that spot where you want to move to the next module, yet you don’t know where to click, and you become frustrated. If your design is built in such a way that the learner is confused on how to go back and forth in a smooth, easy-to-navigate way, then learning will be impeded.

In addition, think about the word “forward” versus an arrow or an icon. Even before emojis, there was the universal Isotype icons–a pictorial language developed in the 1920s that broke the boundaries of language and literacy. So, instead of having the word “forward” and “back” as your navigation items, place a forward and back arrow icon, seamlessly making navigation understandable to a vast array of individuals.

Placing Images that Assist the Content

Images (pictures, pictographs, graphics, graphs) all help break up your content (just like a video) and make it more digestible, engaging, and helpful to readers who prefer to process information visually.

In fact, a great way to introduce a complex topic and make it entertaining, fun, and engaging is to provide an infographic. Infographics can help the learner connect abstract concepts in a more engaging manner. It takes information and marries text with visuals so the learning isn’t bogged down by too much text. Here are some examples.

Breaking Learning Content into Digestible Chunks

You only have a certain amount of time to engage the learner. In addition, you want to be conscious of learners’ attention spans. Think about yourself as a learner. Does staring down big blocks of text that fill pages sound engaging to you? Is that how you want to learn?

If not, then consider breaking your content into digestible chunks. By doing that you alleviate overwhelming feelings of coming across massive blocks of text that no one wants to learn from. Use videos to break up that content and place images to help keep the learning curious and engaged with the content instead of overwhelmed and lost.


In the end, you want to consider where your learner is coming from and where they are going. You want to help them learn the material as best they can. This is much more easily done with the above techniques. Using them will help enhance your course and make it more engaging, interactive, and fun, which in the end will only aid in the learning process.