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Digital learning: the two most important skills for building learning online

Category: Anglia Learning & Teaching

14 January 2019

Leonard Houx of Cass Business School gave a well-received talk in October 2018 as part of Talking about Teaching: The Innovation Series.

Talking about Teaching is a collaboration between Anglia Learning & Teaching and the Centre for Innovation in Higher Education (CIHE). 

Leonard described the two most important aspects to be considered when developing online learning opportunities – ‘usability’ (the ease of use and learnability of a human made object such as a tool or device) and ‘instructional design’ (the design of instruction).

Usability is important, because for Leonard, today’s ‘happy’ digital users ‘bask in the freedom’ of using digital devices but make ‘cold hearted cost benefit analyses’ as to how they commit their time. With some interesting slides, Leonard demonstrated how users scan and skim online content, actually only read about 20% of a webpage, and spend an average of only 20 seconds on a page.

To improve usability, Leonard outlined his six top tips which we hope you’ll find useful.

  1. Images – display for a reason.
    Pictures must be meaningful. Evidence shows that people do not take any notice of stock images, although they will look at images of food, sex or danger. Images of real people, such as alongside your email, work well to humanise the content. 
  2. Headings – highlight key information.

    People focus on headings more than the rest of the text, and even then only about the first two words.Your headings should be front loaded with your key messages or instructions.  Sub-head sections with gerunds and imperatives, both of which get straight to the point using verbs.

  3. Order - keep lists in one consistent scheme.
    Maintain a consistent scheme for ordering topics. Chronological schemes are helpful because students know when they should be looking at the information.

  4. Links - make the link a noun.
    It should be clear as to what the link is linking to. Links should be descriptive, rather than just "click here" or "download the document". This also helps people with disabilities to access your pages more easily.

  5. Paragraphs – break up your wall of text.
    A big wall of text does not appeal to online readers. People scan online text, so the material must be broken up to improve the readability. Use bullets for lists, and bold text for emphasis.

  6. Copy – cut your text in half.
    Text online should be short and get to the point quickly. Cut it down as much as you can, even by as much as half. This can be done by changing verb phrases to stronger, single words and removing some points which are self-explanatory.

Feedback from our colleagues who attended this event indicated they found his six tips for usability a great tool to apply to their own digital resources for learning and teaching, and we hope you will too. The slides from this seminar, along with resources from other previous Talking about Teaching seminars, can be found on our Past events and resources page.


The views expressed here are those of the individual and do not necessarily represent the views of Anglia Ruskin University. If you've got any concerns please contact us.