Given the incredible advances in technology in recent years, a debate that was once self-evident is now rather controversial, and that is: what is more important, E-learning look and feel, or learning methodology?

The look-and-feel camp maintain that, given today’s incredibly short attention span, a learner will hardly get past logging in if the aesthetics of the page don’t immediately grab their attention.  On the other hand, however, the learning methodology camp maintain that good content is far superior to anything that a flash developer might be able to throw at you.  Let’s briefly examine both arguments before deciding to which side the pendulum must swing.

It’s all about look and feel

Designers have never questioned that their wares have an impact, the difference now, however, is that beautiful designs can be translated so easily onto the web.  Given that ease of translation, designers who argue that E-learning is all about look and feel believe that, in a Web 2.0 world, all internet users (including E-learners) have come to expect a certain standard, and if it is not reached, nor will the goal of the website (for E-learning, course completion and enjoyment would be the goal).

This contention is supported by evidence.  An impressive looking course automatically looks more professional, interesting and inviting which increases the chance that a learner may actually want to take it.  Beyond that, good design ensures that the learner gets the right information, and takes away the right message The rapid growth of the field of UI/UX, and its application to E-learning, including an increasing interest in responsive design, is also testament to the fact that users on the web need, and expect, a good experience and this experience is enabled by a superior E-learning look and feel.   Or is it?

Learning methodology, A.K.A Content, is King

Think of your favourite movie.  Then think about what it is you like about it.  Was it the special effects that impressed you, or the strength of the story and how it struck a deep emotional chord in you? Resonated with you, made you laugh, maybe taught you something?

As it turns out, what you love about your favourite movie, and what you truly love about E-learning, could essentially be one and the same.  This is the central argument for all those that support learning methodology over look and feel – that without good content; without the central story that surrounds the main messages, that the learning is rendered useless.

This argument, too, is well supported by evidence.  Before the web was even invented, or formal education for that matter, our great ancestors communicated mainly through stories, so it is little surprise that that medium so deeply resonates with us.  Since the advent of the web, however, the argument still holds up.  Research shows that storytelling greatly increases learner’s attention, relevance, confidence and satisfaction with their E-learning courses.   Good content, told through stories, also helps the leaner to emotionally engage with the message, which in turn helps them to transcend their current environment, resulting in a higher likelihood that they will change their behavior – which is the goal of learning in the first place.

If the arguments for learning methodology are equally well evidenced, then, which is truly more important?

Finding the middle ground

For the modern E-learning designer, the reality is that on this particular issue it cannot be an either-or scenario, it needs to be a both. The good news is, though, that with the expected rate of growth in the E-learning space, there is plenty of time left to create best practice E-learning look, feel and content, so we can continue to engage, and teach, our ever-growing audience.

Author: Janine Cahill

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