In eLearning content development, how much text is too much text?

Graeme Youngs | 05/03/2016

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You’re sitting through an eLearning course and a slide comes up full of text. I bet you roll your eyes just as much as I do. But still, time after time, we see crowded slides.

It seems ironic that I’m about to discuss too much text, in a text-based blog, but let's see how it goes.

Although people are becoming conditioned to reading text online, there’s resistance to reading lots of text on a screen. Even if you have a scrolling web page, there is still a tendency for people to print out any information, which needs to be considered, read in detail and digested.

But where does that leave us with eLearning content development, particularly with frame-based learning - the most common form generated from authoring systems like Storyline 2 and Captivate? The challenge for many e-learning developers is how to convey all the information they need within the constraints of a single slide.

How many words?

In your opinion, how many words should we be targeting on a slide? 100? 200? 50? Less?

Apple say you should have six words on a presentation slide! That’s probably too minimalist for eLearning but another common presentation goal is “6 x 6”. A maximum of six points with an average of six words in each. If we take that as a target, that gives us 36 words to use.  

So what are the alternatives to text? What can we do with the pages of text-based information sent to you from your ever-helpful subject matter expert?

Split it down.

The simplest answer to your over-busy frame, is to split it down into separate slides. This advice isn't rocket science but often course developers feel obliged to keep their course to a set notional number of screens.

However, by crowding a slide with information, what has happened to your slide and time target?  A good cross-check is to work out the total number of words in a course. The typical reading speed is between 200 and 300 words a minute but that assumes a continuous stream of words with no click-based activity.

A picture speaks 1000 words.

A thousand words may be an exaggeration, but a well-chosen picture can lighten the amount of text you need. We can avoid the need to describe something in text by using a suitable relevant image.

Could a diagram help?

Can you use a diagram to give life to your words or a flow to ideas? Could a diagram help provide logical framework for your ideas? If so, then do it.

Speak to me.

Using an audio narration can help reduce the amount of the text you need on screen. Just as in a presentation, using audio to deliver the bulk of your material and using text to highlight key points enables you to minimize the text you need on screen. For more information on our top tips for narrating audio for your eLearning course, see this previous blog post.

Watch me now.

In the same way as with audio, you can use video as an alternative to text. For example, instead of a lengthy technical description, could you convey the point better with an interview with an expert or a piece-to-camera?

Beyond that, there's a whole world of possibilities with videos in terms of dramas, decisions and even modeling complex situations by using video, which would otherwise take acres of text.

Make it interactive.

You can use interactivity to make your material more digestible by chunking it down. Instead of one panel of 100 words, can you create a four-part click to reveal (CTR) with about 25 words on each panel and an image to re-enforce each point.  In doing so, you also provide a framework for your students to both comprehend and to recall your material more easily.

Question time.

Instead of “telling” information, can you engage your audience by asking a question, then delivering information as feedback to their answer?  Instead of making a statement,  you could phrase it as a question with clickable answers. Once the student has clicked the answer (which would force them to think about the question), then deliver the information surrounding the answer.

Use all the options.

Elaborating on our idea about diagrams and pictures, could you have an “exploratory” interaction where students can hover or click for more information? Perhaps a piece of equipment with hotspots that reveal more information, perhaps even an audio or video commentary. Or could the interaction be two people talking and clicking on each person reveals more?

What do you do?

I hope I’ve shown you that there’s a world of interactive multi-media possibilities for avoiding lots of text; despite proving this through a text-based blog. By no means is this an exhaustive list, but I hope I’ve given you some food for thought. If you’ve got some more examples, please feel free to get in touch!

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Graeme Youngs

Graeme is the Head of Learning with Omniplex