Writing For Online Learners And Readers
Writing strategies that help match up to the needs and behaviors of online learners and readers go a long way to making the whole online learning experience rewarding and engaging. Next time you are reading a resource online or working through an eLearning module, take note of what you do, what you like to do online and what you don't. Then think about how your learners feel.
- Read everything word for word, beginning to end?
- Scan for the most important information first?
- Get bored if it doesn’t relate to your life or your learning goals?
- Look for clear instructions to tell you what to do next?
- Get easily distracted by other websites?
- Like looking at a visual or a video before reading the text?
- Feel tired if the resource is dense and colorful?
If most of your answers are yes except for the first question, then these tips will help you write engaging resources for your online learners.
To avoid information overload:
- Keep your content concise and relevant. No waffling. Cut out anything that is unnecessary.
- Don’t overdo any top-down teacher talk either. Most online learners want to get to the point.
- Use headings to provide key information. Try to make it short, relevant and memorable.
- Use personal pronouns and/or characters. Learners want to feel involved and that content relates to what they’re doing in their life now.
- Make sure you use white spaces as a breather. If it’s too dense, they may skip it.
- Avoid more than two or three colors or purely decorative images that don’t add to the content. Too loud and the key points get lost.
To make sure your learners get the content:
- Present information in an F shape. Studies show that this is how we read online.
- Write paragraphs in the pyramid style with the most important information first, in case they don’t read the rest.
- Break it up into chunks of information or small bytes. This helps with retention.
- Engage learners in different ways. It doesn't have to be all written. Use visuals and videos or even audio to highlight or explain a point. Use quizzes to foster a sense of achievement.
- Provide offline options. Learners may find it useful to download a file (a Word document, pdf, audio or video) that they can work on offline. This gives them more time to digest it at their own pace as well as cater to those with limited internet connection.
- Accessibility counts. As well as appreciating being able to work offline, consider those with accessibility issues. For example, is there a transcript for audio and video, so that hearing impaired learners are not left out?
To keep learners with you:
- Avoid too many links. You want learners to stay within the resource as much as possible or they might not come back.
- Avoid click fatigue. Two or three links are just enough. If learners have to keep clicking to get to a resource or key information, they will get frustrated.
- Use original content. A list of curated resources is fine if it’s not used as the prime learning resource. Learners appreciate original content especially if they are paying for it!
- Present the content in different ways. A procedural text can work better as a series of visual steps. Or, a concept might be better explained in a video rather than as written text. Bilingual glossaries can be enhanced by images. Think about the best way to convey a fact, concept or meaning in multiple ways.
- Use key statements to guide and instruct. Think about the difference between transitional and instructional statements. Learners want to know where they are heading.