Style Guide.docx Originally published May 17, 2019
So you’ve decided to create an online learning course in Brightspace. Amazing! One of the main items you should plan during the initial stages of the course creation process is the use of a consistent course design. Here are a few tips to help you create consistency.
Establish a hierarchy of information
When learners are taking an online course, they are doing a lot of independent, self-directed learning. Without having an instructor or facilitator in front of them saying, “This is important and you should remember this”, it can be difficult to select the most important information on the course page. Careful use of design elements on a course page provide the clues and context for the learner that they would get from a facilitator in an in-class setting.
Design clues could be things like the size or type of font, the placement of videos or images on the course page, the inclusion of boxes surrounding content of a certain topic, and more. Larger font typically means that section of text is more important than other smaller sections of text, and the use of text boxes usually conveys the same meaning. This visual hierarchy helps establish which information is most important in the course, without anyone explicitly telling the students.
Let’s consider an example:
All new equations presented in an online Calculus course are written in white text within a blue text box at the top of many pages throughout the course. Students then know exactly where to look for equations, no matter what module or page they are looking at. Plus, they can come back to the course while they’re studying for their final exam, and easily find the equations they need. The placement of the equations in the blue box at the top of the page also conveys to students that this information is important and should be remembered. If an instructor were to forget to add the blue text box with a new equation, students would likely ask where the new equation was, or have trouble locating it at a later date.
Develop a style guide
To keep the design clues consistent within your course, develop a style guide! It’s like a toolbox with all of your approved fonts, style, images, icons, logos, and more. This guide will help you know exactly what you can use in terms of style elements, and exactly what you’ll use it for within your course - like a fancy cheat sheet!
The style guide can also include information about the approved use of writing style and form, like the use of abbreviations, how dates appear in-text, and the use of specific symbols or equations. These guidelines will keep your course consistent with existing courses, programs, websites, and other materials your school/organization/company has created previously.
Plus, the style guide will help you write the content of your course more efficiently if you make the guide early enough! If you have this tool, you’ll know how course pages can be laid out before you begin creating course content – this means you’ll naturally begin writing with these design elements in mind. Writing with an existing Style Guide will therefore make the content and visual style match throughout the course. Consistency is particularly important when you have more than one person writing content for your course, or if there are multiple courses that will be created for a program.
Draw attention to content by being inconsistent
If you want to do something really funky in your course, like introduce a new type of quiz or a new section of content, try giving it a new or unexpected design. This novelty will make the learner pay attention to the area you want them to focus on in the course. For example, if your entire course has been various shades of blue, a pop of orange in the corner will draw the learners’ attention and make the information around that new area seem important and different.
If you were not using consistent course design and were instead adding new design elements on every other page, the learner becomes desensitized to the flashiness, and may miss information that was important to communicate.
The value of design consistency in larger programs or within organizations
If you’re creating a program or certificate that includes multiple courses, or involves many subject matter experts, consistent course design is a must! You’ll have a more cohesive, professional-looking program, and learners won’t waste time re-orienting themselves to new course designs and styles at the beginning of every course.
This is especially important when you are creating an introductory program, like a company-wide onboarding program. Courses are typically added over time, or are adapted and updated by different members of the L&D team. Having a consistent style and clear Style Guide will make sure that courses look similar, regardless of who is making them. It also gives a positive impression to new hires who have just joined the company.
Download the linked Style Guide above to start thinking of the elements you could include in your own guide. You can also work with D2L to create courses with beautiful, responsive layouts, consistent design elements, and branded colours and icons to make your information pop the way it should!