It may come as no surprise that students in a traditional classroom setting report being more engaged in their courses when their surroundings are more appealing. Students would prefer to learn in bright modern-looking spaces as opposed to older buildings that haven’t been updated for fifteen or more years, as an example. This does not mean that large scale renovations are or new construction is required on an on-going schedule that may not be sustainable. Small upgrades such as paint, fixtures and commercial-grade carpet can make a big difference in a traditional setting.
Students that attend courses online have similar needs related to being engaged in a visually appealing environment. Online courses can at times appear to be text heavy and boring to the students. Faculty and instructional designers can make some minor changes that can have a big impact in terms of presenting an appealing environment.
Faculty should give serious consideration to the look of their course, they may be surprised by what an impact a few small changes can make. Inspiration can come from favorite websites, magazines or online courses of their online-saavy colleagues. A great deal of time and energy has gone into the content for an online course, why not dedicate some additional time and energy into visual considerations?
A graphic designer or a degree in graphic design is NOT needed to make a visual impact in an online course. Text chunking is often the first consideration when addressing course appearance. Here are a couple of suggestions (Keep in mind that all visuals should be made accessible to all students):
- Text chunking – the process of breaking down content into smaller, bite-sized bits of easily digestible information that are easy to comprehend, learn, and commit to memory. Accessibility – use the formatting tools in your text editor, such as heads and subheads, to enable screen readers.
- Images – to start, look for simple images that are attractive and appropriate for the course. Many faculty will choose to use banners to introduce images in their course to help students understand where they are in a course. For example, Module 1, Module 2 etc. Accessibility – images, graphs, and formulas need alternate text descriptions. For some images, when appropriate simply use an alternative tag to indicate that the image is decorative.
- Videos – another great way to make online courses visually appealing is to embed appropriate videos that are short in duration. For example, a 2-5 minute video that provides a general overview of the topic from TED Talks or YouTube are favorites of many faculty. Another popular option used by faculty are self-created videos for Course Tours, Module Tours and Assignment Overviews. Accessibility – all videos should be captioned or a written transcript provided.
Don’t let the need to add visually appealing elements to your course deny some students from being able to fully access the content. Universal Design Principles for Learning tell us that this additional support benefits all learners, not just those with disabilities.