Life has “necessary evils”. For example, yesterday I was with one of my little boys in the front yard and we were looking at the blossoms on the cherry tree. There were bees everywhere and he did not like that. To him bees were “evil” but as we all know they are necessary.

Do eLearning courses have necessary evils? I believe that they do…it’s TEXT. When we think of the worst online course that we’ve ever seen it was probably a “page-turner”. So there was a lot of text and that was it.

Here’s the secret that nobody wants to admit…online learners don’t read, they scan! Let’s admit it, most of our users are scanning our pages and seeing what stands out. If they are just scanning our text then we need to figure out how to help them understand our content.

So if text is a necessary evil, how do we keep it under control?

Make it Easy to Digest – Smaller Chunks
No learner wants to read a bunch of text on the screen and we can only remember a certain amount at a time. So, take your text and cut it into chunks. Many popular websites do this as well. Take a look at CNN and notice that every sentence is a new paragraph. This allows users to quickly scan the story. Maybe our courses should be written in that style? Or maybe something similar?

At times designers want to have less pages in a course. I really don’t pay attention to how many pages I have. I’d rather error on the side of having too many simple, clean pages than having pages with too much text.

Say NO to Jargon
Many times we work with SMEs to get our training content. They may be using words that a new employee won’t understand. It’s our job to break-down the jargon and write to the learner.

Cut, Cut, Cut…
Rewrite your text and then cut some and rewrite it again. There are many times when we use too many words. Can we convey the same meaning in 5 words instead of 15?

This reminds me of a LinkedIn discussion where people has to tell a story in 6 words. I know that a course will have more than 6 words but it shows how much information can truly be portrayed in very few words.

Use Bullets
Learners can easily scan a list. It helps them quickly breakdown the concepts.

(Before) Increased competition, recent uncertainty in the markets, and increasing expectations are just a few of the challenges we face as we seek to strengthen relationships with our clients.

(After) As we seek to strengthen relationships with our clients, we face:

  • Increased competition
  • Market uncertainty
  • Increased expectations

Easy on the Bold, Italics, and Color
Using various text formatting can be very powerful. However if you overuse these formats they become useless.

The use of various text formatting should be explained in your internal style guide. When/what do you bold? When is colored text used? Can text be italicized?

As you format your text you can drastically help the user to understand what is important, what they should pay attention to, and how to interact with the course. Again, if it’s used too much the learner stops “seeing” it.

Talk to the Learner
I prefer to keep the text conversational. If we really want to connect with learners then formal text won’t work. As you write the course pretend like you’re are explaining it to a colleague.

When I see, “the user would then access the xxxxx screen” in a course it feels very distant. Just say, “You then access the xxxx screen”. eLearning is a one-to-one interaction.

Use Images
A picture if worth a 1000 words. Use images instead of text.

Is it possible to do online training with NO TEXT? Check out the videos at Common Craft. (I think that the answer is yes but probably not for every topic.)

Overall we just need to be more careful with our text. We could all spend a bit more time and come up with something that is more effective.

The phrase “Less is more” comes to mind.

Make your training look great and be more interactive…use eLearning interactions.


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