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Making sense of the senses in e-learning courses (Part 1)

E-learning enthusiasts everywhere promote the benefits of online courses and present their advantages over traditional learning methods. Most of the times, there are more positive aspects to e-learning than negative ones. But this doesn't mean that skeptics can't come with a few reasonable arguments against e-learning, as shortcomings exist after all.

Both e-learning supporters and e-learning skeptics usually agree that a blended learning strategy will have the best results in terms of employee engagement with the courses and of course ROI.

Sometimes, due to all sorts of restraints, adopting a blended learning strategy is not possible, so L&D professionals need to make do with either face-to-face instructor-led courses, or entirely online courses. If their option is the latter, they can still reach impressive results by using a modern LMS and by paying attention to many details while creating the courses.

The perfect online training course responds to an extended set of various learning needs. This post will focus on only one category: sensorial learning.

Training courses involving all senses

Learning is usually associated with the brain and its cognitive function. But all external stimuli get to the brain through our five senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch.

Sensorial learning means that our senses are deeply connected with our learning process. They affect the learning experience and they create triggers in the brain that will help moving the new knowledge to the long-term memory.

When it comes to sensorial learning, traditional face-to-face courses have the upper hand over online courses. Instructors can tap on all five senses when teaching in a physical setting. In a virtual room, on the other hand, things get a little more complicated. However, it's not impossible to make online learners "feel" the course.

Let's take the senses one by one and see how they can be included in an online learning experience. This first part will deal only with sight, as it's the most important sense in learning and deserves a blog entry on it's own. The other four — hearing, smell, taste, and touch — will get their chance to shine in the next post.

Making sense of the senses in e-learning courses: Sight

Our vision helps us capture new knowledge through various ways, no matter if we're in the real world or a virtual one. Since we're talking about online courses, let's dive into some details instructional designers need to pay attention to while creating visually appealing courses.

1. Text

People read text and comprehend the meaning. Title, subtitles, lists, small columns, font type, font size, font pairing, font color, background color are just a few text variables that can influence the readability of training content.

Best practices suggest using sans serif fonts for online display, with sizes of 24px and above (with very few exceptions). Also, you should use one font type for regular text and another — or maybe two — for text that needs to be emphasized. Be careful with the contrast between text color and the background color, as it mustn't hurt the eye. A good rule of thumb is to choose a dark color for text (but not black) and a light color for the background (but not white).

Once you set these straight, remember to be consistent in using them, throughout all courses, or at least in each one.

2. Images and graphics

A picture is said to be worth a thousand words. Use that power while creating your online courses. Breaking the text with images and graphics will draw the attention towards them and help learners associate the new information with visuals.

Perhaps there's no need to say that all visuals must be relevant to the subject matter, or any metaphor or correlation made in the course. Cute pictures of cats or philosophical quotes may not be your best bet any time, I'm afraid.

If you need to create the graphics, pay attention to the color palette. Colors are important because they are usually associated with emotions and an ill-picked color can turn learners away. You can choose two, three, or four colors, but always make sure they play nice with each other.

Here's a color wheel that can help you with picking the right colors.

3. Videos

Besides a lot of reading and looking at pictures and graphics, trainees will watch videos as well; if not inside their company's LMS, at least on YouTube. Video tutorials and interactive videos and presentations bring another dimension to learning.

Trainees are usually more receptive of the new knowledge in a video because they feel immersed in the subject matter. They can retain the same amount of information from video watching as from text, or even more.

One thing that makes video learning so popular and efficient is that video requires trainees to use more than one sense during their learning process. Besides their sight, they use their hearing and touch.


Check out the second part of this post, where I'll cover how hearing and touch play their part in the learning process of online courses and also if smell and taste can be included in an online learning experience.