27 June 2005

Designer elearning makes a debut

There's a percentage of digital designers out there gradually sliding into employment positions in which their design skills are set to tackle, not public websites or corporate intranets, but elearning environments. Learning programs, training applications, web-based classrooms, virtual learning environments and all the associated acronyms from LMS and CBT to (spare me the metadata) SCORM, IMS and XML.

Online learning needs to be visually designed and someone's gotta do it. The tricky part is, no one has done it much before. So here we are, doing the pioneering. A lot of the principles we've learned from web-based multimedia design will remain the same, but there's one very key difference: The goal of elearning design, is to support learning. Not to sell, or attract attention, or persuade or just convey information -- not even to entertain, per se -- but to facilitate learning. In this way, elearning designers, like it or not, suddenly become involved in the teaching. The decisions we make will inevitably effect the "learnability" of the content. Our design will never be entirely neutral. It will either clarify, support and enhance, or obfuscate, confuse and cause frustration. So naturally, we're aiming for the former.

Hence the inauguration of this blog. I've been interested in the visual design of elearning for a while now, and I see a scarcity of guidance on the topic (naturally, due to the newness of what I expect will eventually become a certified discipline). There's plenty of information out there we can use, packaged in other disciplines (web design, usability, HCI, human factors, instructional design, interactivity design, interior design, architecture, etc.) but it's yet to be pulled together and re-analyzed for the benefit of the new elearning designers.

For my own professional interests, I decided I would spend occasional bursts of energy, on the hunt for resources specifically geared to the elearning designer (looking especially to the disciplines mentioned above for a start). Then it occurred to me, if I was going to do it anyway, why not share it as I go, in case there are other searching souls out there, who could make use of the nuggets that emerge. The result, I hope, will be a collection of resources, research questions, best practice, inspiration, and provocations, that together, can begin to define a space that we might some day dub the field of Elearning Visual Design.