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Instructive text: calls to action or shouts in the dark?

This blog by learning designer Victor Verster makes the case for instructive text in elearning course design. As more and more digital natives enter the workforce, with a strong understanding of UX (user experience) and how to consume online content, it’s worth asking whether there’s still a place for instructive text in modern elearning.

A learner reading some instructive text

As technology rapidly develops, it’s becoming clear that learners are becoming more discerning in terms of what they expect from an elearning course. Gone are the days where designers could churn out numerous horizontal-scrolling courses and expect acclaim – or even basic engagement – from their audience.

Owing to the growth of smartphone technology and its use of vertical scrolling, the ‘Select Next to Continue’ courses now look like Stone Age constructions in a Renaissance world.

They did the job once, but there are better alternatives now.

In fact, what I’ve observed recently is that some users now expect to interact with elearning programmes as they would with the best websites. This means a clear layout, consistent navigability, and minimal text. And it’s the latter that brings me to an important question and the crux of this blog: is instructive text important – or even necessary?

Making the case for instructive text

During my formative years as a learning designer, the case for making instructive text consistent was made as excessively as it was obsessively. Perhaps this stemmed from the view that any inconsistencies would detract learners’ attention from the material at hand.

Which would be a fair assertion – were it not for the fact that the boredom this repetition generates dramatically offsets any appreciation of consistency. After all, you can’t help but query whether the learner stopped reading ‘Select the next arrow to continue’ by the third screen of an hour-long course.

Below is an example, created using the gomo elearning authoring tool, for illustrative purposes. The instructive text is in blue.

an example of instructive text in an elearning tool

User feedback, however, suggests that we shouldn’t stop using all instructive text just yet. It remains a vast presumption to think that all users will have the same level of computer literacy.

So, what’s the optimum solution? It all depends on your audience.

For Millennials, perhaps it’s better just not to use instructive text. No apps use it. No websites use it. Why? For these cohorts, it’s something they’ve grown up with. They’re digital natives, which means they already know how to engage with digital content on all devices and in a variety of formats.

For older users who aren’t as familiar with those platforms, however, frequent pushes in the right direction can still be helpful. Particularly on screens which contain some kind of bespoke interaction.

Instructive text: a happy medium

What I’ll tentatively advance as the ‘Goldilocks solution’ sees us explain the use of a course’s forthcoming instruction text once – and only once – in an introductory or Help screen. We then don’t see it throughout the rest of the course.

But of course, this is just my personal preference – perhaps informed by my Millennial proclivities. Similarly, most apps make use of an initial tour to introduce users to key bits of functionality, sometimes even helping them interact with it.

Perhaps one day people will look back on instructive text as a relic of a bygone era where computer literacy levels varied wildly between generations. But for now, it still adds value if used judiciously and with the audience at the heart of the course creator’s thinking.

The most important thing to remember is that LEO Learning’s team of experts can adapt to your requirements to ensure that all learners get the most out of your elearning.

To find out how LEO Learning can help you revolutionise learning and development in your organisation, contact us today.

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