Every day we are inundated with information: emails, text messages, voice mails, meetings, etc. Adding training to that content mix, regardless of how necessary or relevant, can be overwhelming. While some people may be information junkies, many prefer to get to the point—they want the “need-to-know” pieces of training information.
When designing an e-learning training program, determine the key points, and make sure these key ideas are highlighted for the learner. By making your main ideas clear, you are reducing the load on the learner’s working memory, freeing it up to focus on and make sense of the “need-to-know” information.
Here are 6 things you can do to help learners focus on the most important information in your e-learning training programs:
1. Break it up and Keep it Scannable: Use Headings
When presented with information, we look for cues about what to pay attention to. For instance, in this blog, you might scan down the numbered list of main points to get an overall picture of the content and to decide what, if any, information you want to read. In an e-learning training program, we should also be able to quickly scan through text and pick-up on the key points. For this reason, you should include headings. Headings are designed to attract the reader to main points and have been shown to improve memory and understanding of information.
2. Location, Location, Location: Place high priority information at the top
We tend to pay more attention to what is presented at the top of a page. Therefore, the most important information should be placed where?… at the top of the page. Research has shown that most people won’t scroll beyond information that is visible on the screen. Because of this, it’s better to eliminate long, scrolling pages.
3. One Screen is Better than Two: Put directions and related information on the same screen
You’ve likely experienced the frustration of having to toggle back and forth between two screens, needing to apply information from one screen to the other. There’s nothing worse than going back-and-forth between directions and the information they refer to. When directions are separated from their related information, there is a high risk of memory overload. Rather than focusing on following the directions, we must use limited, available memory resources to remember information from one screen and use it on another. For this reason, directions are best located on the same screen with the steps that are to be followed. This rule also applies to feedback. Having feedback appear on the same screen with the related questions and responses allows us to fully focus on the information in the feedback. In general, avoid situations that force learners to toggle between screens.
4. A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words: Add visuals to illustrate your key points
We tend to take in and remember visual information more easily than text. Relevant visuals (graphs, charts, pictures, animation, video, etc.) used in conjunction with narration or onscreen text can improve learning. We are more likely to actively make connections and integrate learning into our current knowledge when we are presented with visuals that support the content, rather than with just words alone. One word of caution: Avoid adding visuals that are merely for decoration. If the visual isn’t illustrating a key idea, then it adds no real value and could even be a distraction.
5. Engage the Eyes and the Ears: Use audio narration to explain visuals
So, you’ve decided to include a relevant visual to illustrate your main point, but you also need some words for clarification. If this is the case, you should consider using audio narration rather than text. Since we can simultaneously process auditory and visual information, using both channels when presenting information can reduce cognitive load on either channel. In other words, instead of having our eyes focus on both a visual and text, use audio narration so that the visual channel for learning is not overloaded.
The exception: there are times when having text rather than audio can be helpful. Since auditory information has to be held in the memory, text should be used if the information will need to be accessed repetitively or if it provides directions or steps of a procedure.
6. Keep it all together: Place explanatory text inside visuals and present audio simultaneous with graphics
Is it better to have a clean visual with explanatory information neatly separated from the graphic, or should the text be integrated into the parts of the graphic it is referring to? When information is disjointed—graphics separated from text—we have to use our working memory to create a link between the graphic and the text. This means our focus is on connecting the text or audio with the visual instead of on making sense of the information. For this reason, onscreen text that’s being used to explain a visual should be integrated into the visual. Along with that, audio narration that is being used to describe a graphic should be presented simultaneously with the graphic. When presented with text and graphics, we tend to read the text then look for the relevant part of the graphic. Learning is more effective when the appropriate text is aligned with the corresponding portion of the graphic. When using narrated video, animation, or still frames, learning is improved when the narration occurs at the same time as the visual.
The goal should be to free up working memory to concentrate on the key points. By using strategies to focus learners’ attention on the main concepts, you will be improving training efficiency.
Check out my other blogs related to e-learning training programs, and drop me a comment with your ideas for making key concepts stand out in e-learning training programs.