Most people can relate to at least one unhappy point in their life where they were forced to read through an enormous block of text and expected to gain something from it other than a headache.
Nobody likes text walls—even the fiercest bibliophile cringes at the sight of a vast, unbroken mass of words. Not only are they hard on the eyes, but they strain your attention span to its limit with their dull presentation. They also do nothing to help you understand what exactly you need to learn from them. In general, super dense text, no matter how much important information it contains, is a poor learning tool that doesn’t tend to result in very much learning at all, whether in a textbook or an eLearning experience.
Luckily, in digital experiences especially, there are plenty of things you can do to transform your text-heavy content into an engaging experience that will actually teach your learners what you want them to know. Today, we’ll go through a few tips on how to do this.
#1: Be clear about your learning objectives
Listing the main learning objectives of the digital experience from the start might seem like something tiny, but it can make a big difference to how the learner engages with the rest of the content.
Think about it: by stating upfront what the learner should be getting from the upcoming experience, you’ve already taught them what information to keep an eye out for and pay special attention to. We’d all love to think that learners will remember all the information we give them, but the fact is that human attention is severely limited—they’ll only retain a fraction of the content you present to them. So, by pointing out the purpose of the eLearning from the get-go, you’ve prepared them to focus on the important bits.
#2: Break it up
This is probably the most intuitive solution to the text-wall problem—break the wall!
Breaking stuff down into smaller ‘chunks’ makes it more digestible and easier to commit to memory.
There are some straightforward ways you can break up your text-dense content, such as literally breaking the information into separate sections (using different screen types is a nice way to bring some variety into the experience), giving unique topics headings, using images, putting in questions, and so on.
#3: Highlight important info
Unless your eLearning is some sort of puzzle, the goal of a learning experience generally isn’t for the learner to try and guess what they need to know. There’s no point in leaving them in the dark.
By highlighting the most important information, you give the learner a significantly better chance of remembering it, or at least noticing it amid the sea of information. You can draw attention to important details in various ways, including simple tricks like bolding or italicising your text, using different coloured break-out boxes, or supporting important sections with icons or images. Adding a reflective question after a section will also indicate to the learner that you want them to pause and think about a particular concept or idea.
Remember, you want to give your learners the best chance of coming out of the experience equipped with the knowledge you intended for them. Give them every advantage possible!
#4: Put the learner in the driver’s seat
Consider this—if you’re the passenger in a car, it’s a lot easier to lose focus and pay absolutely no attention to where you’re going. However, if you’re the driver, you not only have an incentive to know where you’re going, but you can also choose which route you want to take. You have a lot more control over your journey and thus you feel more engaged with it.
Adding an element of control such as giving your learners a choice of what they want to learn about next, or if they want to skip certain parts, can work to increase motivation.
This won’t always be applicable—there are some subject matters that need to be completed in a certain order and in which no topics can be skipped. But even something as simple as giving your learner a progress bar to see how far they’ve come and how far they have to go can give them a sense of control and thus more incentive to engage with the content.
Information-dense content is always going to be a challenge, but there are some easy steps you can take to make text-heavy digital experiences more engaging and helpful to your learners. At the end of the day, you don't want to let text-walls create a barrier to effective learning.