Simple is Better

I try to operate under a guiding principle in instructional design: simple is better. I sometimes get overruled by others on this principle for individual courses, but I have no problem standing up for it.

Lately, I’ve been surprised by how many e-Learning tools and templates use avatars, simulated voices, cartoon characters and other types of garish templates. I’m unsure of the reason and driving force behind this trend. As a consumer of e-Learning courses, I would be mildly offended that as an adult learner, I’m being asked to accept what I consider to be design for children. Perhaps, there is a misplaced design goal here of either trying to emulate the classroom or going overboard on Gagne’s first event of instruction: gain the learners’ attention. Whatever the reason, avatars, simulated voices, cartoon graphics, garish colors and complex interaction templates should be approached with the same caution that a diabetic approaches sugar.

Here are 5 reasons why I think simple is better:

  1. Adult learners want brief learning interventions
  2. The learning intervention should occur as close as possible (in both time and location) to the job task
  3. Good content and timely practice are plenty “sexy”
  4. “Flashy” design can confuse, minimize and/or detract from the instructional message
  5. The brain needs simplicity when forming new connections

Here are 5 questions I would ask before adding these flashy elements to a course:

  1. What instructional value is added by a talking character?
  2. Does a character need to walk on my learners’ screens?
  3. Do my learners work in an environment where audio-based learning is appropriate?
  4. Can my learners immediately understand an interaction without having to “learn” how to complete it?
  5. Have I tested my design choices with my target audience?

A little flash in an especially lengthy course can be helpful. However, when you have the option, simple is always better.

This article was originally written by AXIOM’s Jim Hicks, and is shared here with permission.

Scroll to Top