When you eat at a restaurant, the food arrives in a specific order. First, there’s the bread (for those who still eat carbs!). Next, you may get a first course, a salad or soup.
Then the waiter brings the main course, the heart of the meal. This takes longer to eat than the bread or first course, but is usually the most satisfying part of the meal. It’s also the most vital part – if you don’t eat the main course, you could be hungry when you leave the restaurant.
Finally, you can order dessert and coffee. Of course, dessert isn’t necessary – it’s “nice to have.”
But what if all of your courses were served at the same time? You wouldn’t know which food to start eating, or where to focus your attention. You’d have dessert at the start of the meal, whether or not you wanted it. And, you’d probably feel overwhelmed and irritated, and might lose interest in the main course.
The same principle holds true for elearning. If you are given too much material simultaneously, your mind will be overloaded, just like your stomach would be with too much food at once.
Here are some pointers to reducing cognitive overload in your elearning:
- Create a course that reads logically. People read top to bottom, left to right. So avoid having information begin on the right-hand side. This prevents your learners from having to work too hard and get frustrated.
- Use white space liberally. Placing paragraphs and graphics too close together creates a disorganized appearance and will only confuse the learner. Instead, break up one screen into two or more screens.
- Add color wisely. In an elearningindustry.com post, Christopher Pappas advises using just two or three colors per course or module; otherwise, the course may appear disorganized. When adding color, don’t forget that some learners may be color blind, and find another way to provide visual contrast. You can even find online applications that analyze color contrast.
- Be smart about animation. There are a lot of great tech tricks out there, but just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should. Any formatting tool should support the learning objectives and/or learning styles; when in doubt, take it out!
- Focus on the need-to-know; trim the nice-to-know material. Research backs this up: Studies have shown that extra details can actually detract from learning. If you must incorporate the optional information, put it in a clickable “tips” box on the applicable screen or in a course resource list.
- Use audio rather than text to explain graphics. This allows the learner to focus visually on the graphic while taking in the description aurally, which maximizes learning. Of course, text should always be an option for sight impaired learners.
Implement these tips, and they will help your learners to be satisfied by – and not overwhelmed by – your elearning solution. And, they might even look forward to returning for another “meal” sometime!