Seven Reasons I Hate Your Content

Don't take it personally.

I don't like most things. There are few mistakes I see over and over again in learning content... It's started to drive me nuts. When I see people do any of these things, I start to feel hot. I start to sweat.

These items are easily fixed-- but don't do it for me. Do it for your learners. They deserve it.

So here you are-- Seven reasons I hate your content.

Number 7: I Hate Your Content Because It's Visually Awkward

Breathtaking graphic design is extremely difficult to achieve. Passable graphic design is not. It's very easy to follow some basic rules and have your visuals pass the "awkward test" every time.

Awkward design makes your content difficult to consume and it hurts your credibility as an online instructor or course creator. When I refer to design I am not talking about beauty, but talking about utility. Here are the five elements to work on to create a design that works:

Contrast: A strong design should contain contrast to create a focal point within your design. In the design above, your eye is drawn to the red ball due to the contrast that is created between the red and other elements in the image. Contrast can be created with size, color, style or other design elements within learning content.

Alignment: It seems many learning developers have a tendency to center elements in a layout or design. Centering is, in reality, the weakest alignment because it doesn't create strong lines within the design. In the card above (courtesy Madison Designs), the right alignment creates both visual interest and strengthens the typography.

White Space (aka Negative Space): In the web layout above, Apple proves that white space doesn't have to be white. White space is the unused space in a layout that helps primary elements to stand out. Every digital inch of your design doesn't have to be filled with something. Design experts agree that it's far better to signifiant negative space to offset content areas.

Repetition: Repeating elements within a design helps provide consistency within different parts of your content. A logo in the same place on every page, a repeated color highlight or similar text placement can provide repetition that holds your design together.

Balance: Balance within a design can be formal symmetrical balance or it can be a asymmetrical balance where the elements visual weight is evenly distributed. In the image above, the bedroom has formal symmetrical balance-- The elements on the right and left side of the room are positioned identically to give a formal sense of balance in the image.

Keeping these five elements in mind won't solve all of your design problems, but, focusing on them will improve the quality of your designs significantly..

Number 6: I Hate Your Content Because I Can Read

My first jobs were working at a summer camp. I had been a camper at the camp myself, so after over a decade of summers I was fairly familiar with the policy and procedure. Each summer a five day staff orientation kicked off the season. During orientation there would be several long meetings in which information was provided in packet form. A senior member of the staff then read the packet contents out loud punctuating each paragraph with "Any questions?"

I don't fault the camp leadership for this poor training-- They were camp people, not learning people.

However, we're learning people-- so if we can't do better then creating an (ugly) PowerPoint and then reading it to learners, what are we really adding to the process. Perhaps you could have saved me some time and sent me the content in an email?

If you are ever reading words on a screen to your learner, stop. You're doing something wrong.

Number 5: I Hate Your Content Because It's Fully of Happy Bullshit Talk

"Hi. How are you guys? I'm doing well. Thanks for watching this video. I really appreciate it. It's pretty late while I am recording this, so, please excuse me if I sound tired...."

While these niceties may be necessary in in-person training, in video training you need to just get to the point. Your first job in a video that is part of a video course is to set the context-- Where does the video fit in to the larger course and why is the content in the video worth learning?

Secondly, I would never tell an audience that I'm not doing my best work. (I hear this (or similar version) a lot-- "This video will suck because my recording settings aren't correct... ")

Your videos don't need a "welcome page."

At LearnToProgram we strive to have each of our video work as both part of a series and also stand on it's own. There is a place for introducing yourself and forging a relationship with the viewer-- that's at the very beginning of the course. I prefer to create a Chapter Zero in our courses which include an "About the Instructor" video and other information not necessarily germane to the course material. This allows us to focus on the primary concept with in each instructional video and avoid silly happy talk.

Number 4: I Hate Your Content Because It's Boring

Stop it!

Don't be boring. If you (or your instructor) don't sound engaged, don't expect your learners to be.

Vary your tone of voice, volume and inflection to avoid sounding monotonous. Make tight edits to avoid unnecessary "dead air" and, most importantly, be as interested as you want your learners to be.

Frequently, I hear the lament "But, my course topic is boring," Even with a boring topic there are ways to make it more engaging.

Ray Jimenez, PhD. of Vignettes Learning, recommends a story based or scenario based approach to learning. Put your learner in a situation in which they have to apply the new knowledge your teaching in order to engage them.

Number 3: I Hate Your Content Because I Feel Like I Know Your Stock Art Personally

There are some pieces of stock art that I see so much, I feel like I know them personally. You're not the only one who hast an iStockPhoto account!

I've seen the woman in the image above in two separate online courses this week alone. When you use stock art, don't consider the art you download a finished product-- Bring it in to Photoshop. Manipulate it. Improve it. Make it your own.

Keep in mind that cheap stock art generally looks like cheap stock art. You might be better off dusting off yor own camera and making your own images.

Number 2: I Hate Your Content Because You Aren't Talking to ME

It's all about me.

"Me" being the learner.

One of the best ways to create instructor-student relationship in your eLearning is to to talk directly to your learners. Address them as "you" and call yourself "me" or "I." This may feel awkward at first but it will give your learner the impression you are talking directly to them.

I've always been a bit of a closet "Delilah" fan. Yes, I enjoy sappy love songs, but, also, show host, Delilah has a great ability to make you feel like she's talking right to you-- even though she's talking to millions.

Strive to use language to create intimacy. Your learners are probably taking your course alone, but they shouldn't feel alone. Be their Delilah.

Number 1: I Hate Your Content Because It's Too Damn Long

I started my training career working for New Horizons, a network of technical training centers. It was there I was trained in the "four T's":

1) Tell them what you're going to tell them.

2) Tell them.

3) Tell them what you told them.

4) Test them.

I found this paradigm to be a good one and have applied it to almost all the training I've developed since then. Make sure each video in your training is about one singular topic and then follow the four T's. This will greatly improve your training quality and dissuade you from going to long. Your learners likely grew watching television which presents video content about 10 minutes at a time.

Computer science professor Philip Guo found that, "the average engagement time of any video maxes out at 6 minutes, regardless of its length." If your videos are longer than six minutes, you're going on too long and damaging student engagement.

Have any of your own eLearning pet peeves? List them in the comments below!