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Making sense of the senses in e-learning courses (Part 2)

I have a confession to make: I'm a gambler. Or I just like to call myself that way. I like to place bets on all sorts of things. But I never ever place a bet unless I'm 100% certain that I'll win. My friends hate me for this; it's like, they never learn.

Go ahead and question my authenticity of being a gambler. The thing is, I don't like to be indebted to anyone, so I avoid this at all costs.

A bet is a promise I have to keep, no matter if I lose or win. Obviously, I like it better when I win.

I always keep my promises.

Speaking of that, I promised you in my previous post that I'll continue addressing the topic of how our senses influence the learning process. Find a comfortable position for reading, as I'm about to keep that promise.

For any late arrivals, the first part of Making sense of the senses in e-learning courses made an introduction to sensorial learning and how online courses can use this to improve their results. Also, I offered some tips on creating e-learning courses that are visually appealing, because sight is the most important sense that influences learning.

But it's not the only one. So let's see what the other four senses have in store for us.


Sounds can have the same effect as colors in an online course. They sometimes make for the subject matter (narration), but most of the times they are just subconsciously connected with emotions during the process of learning. Sounds can accompany and support the course content in subtle ways, like sound effects when an item is selected or clicked, or the soundtrack of a game.

Things get more serious when audio files aren't just musical notes, but actual voices narrating the course. As a side note, the voice over artists must be relevant to the topic, especially if there are more than one (I'm thinking about complex branching scenarios).

Instructional designers must not forget to give the learner as much control as possible — over the volume, over the types of sounds, and especially over auto-playing videos.

One last thought: when sight and hearing are combined in a learning experience, there are higher chances for the learner to better retain the information. That's why training courses that include videos usually lead to greater results.


When another sense — touch — is added to the mix, things get even better. You know the saying, "Tell me and I forget (hearing), show me and I may remember (sight), involve me and I learn." Well, touch very much influences this last part.

In an online setting, learners don't really use their hands, with a right-click here, a double-click there, a scroll or a drag and drop from time to time. While these examples are the most common, more and more people seem to migrate from clicking to tapping, from scrolling to swiping, and from static design to responsive touch screens. All this is happening thanks to the versatile mobile devices, of course.

AR technology makes touching things during the learning process go even further. A lot of training courses on how to operate hardware or heavy machinery can be enhanced with augmented learning. AR technology is still in its infancy, but it's only a matter of time until it will become the norm in e-learning.

Smell and taste

I saved the best for last. Including smell and taste in an online learning experience is certainly more difficult that including sight, hearing, and touch combined. But again, it's not impossible. And when it's done, it's awesome.

Of course, not all online courses are the perfect candidate for this, but cooking schools, oenologists, or perfume companies don't have to lose when it comes to add smell and/or taste in their courses.

The best tools? Words and imagery.

Everyone knows the taste of potatoes, or how a rose smells. Start low and build up crafty descriptions for the smell and taste of a certain spice, the differences between two types of red wine, or the mixture of fragrances in a perfume bottle.

Your words, along with relevant imagery, will trigger memories — or imagination — in learners' brains, thus helping them connect their senses with the learning topic.

Making sense of the senses in e-learning

No matter the topic of a course, or how complex it is, one or more of our five senses — sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch — are involved in the learning process. This fact is non-negotiable.

Instructional designers need to apply a few specific tactics to make their courses senses-friendly; some do this easily, others have room for improvement.

In the end, everyone must make sense of their senses.

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