Rules for Good Design

  1. Establish a formal development process that is best suited for your product. Each step of your process should focus on meeting the needs of the user. Listen, plan, design, test, build, deliver, observe, and refine. Quality outcomes depend on complete process fulfillment. Look at The Development Process for suggestions.
  2. Choose media types based on learning objectives. Never use technology just because you know how or want to impress someone. Before you choose to use video clips, for example, ask yourself whether motion or time-based sequencing are essential elements of the point you are teaching. If not, then forgo using video. Users of your WBT or WBPSS product will be more impressed with rational choices of media types and technologies that speed learning and improve human performance.
  3. Provide ample opportunity for the user to interact with the information. Clever instructional design forces the user to roll and tumble an idea in his or her mind, an effective method of mental interaction not requiring an oral or motor response. On the other hand, object-oriented programming components; such as those available in HTML, Java, and Shockwave; offer ways to add interactive design elements that engage the learner. Buttons, hot spots (image maps and hyperlinks), controls, voice recognition, movable objects, and data entry fields: each has its use in instructional design. Keep in mind that your design goal should be to encourage intellectual interaction with the training information, not simply include lots of click areas. Interactions should always test informational skills and cognition, or they should activate more information the trainee can use to advance learning.
  4. Design products that adapt to the users’ abilities and intelligently respond to the users’ input. If the user is having difficulty with one concept or task, offer remediation through extra information presentation and reinforcement or suggest alternative resources (other courses, publications, or hyperlinked information). Provide meaningful feedback to user input that reinforces a concept and hardens the foundation for further learning.
  5. Keep in mind that people learn in a variety of ways. Even if a user analysis indicates a homogeneous target audience for your product, rest assured that the users will learn through a variety of styles. Visual learners need lots of graphic illustrations to understand concepts and relationships. Verbal learners use text and narration to accomplish the same end. Think through each bit of information presentation and whether learners with differing learning styles will benefit equally.
  6. Reject linear thinking; abandon linear design. A highly structured, top down approach to instructional design does not address the needs and preferences of most trainees. WBT, and the Web itself, is the world of hypermedia, where the user decides the direction best suited for accomplishing his or her goal: to learn. While it is perfectly acceptable to suggest a path through a course, it is not acceptable to require a predetermined path through linear design or demand the same through disabled choices. Good WBT design allows the user to "begin in the middle and end at the beginning," even though, in truth, the beginning is wherever the user chooses to start and the end wherever he stops.
  7. Respect the learner. Avoid any content or feedback that is instructionally insignificant, annoying, or degrading. Do not set the user up to fail a task in an effort to teach him a lesson. For feedback, say "A better choice ..." or "The correct choice ..." instead of "No, stupid. Bad choice." People read at different rates, so do not display information that disappears after a short time. Finally, in WBT especially, long load times for insignificant information are annoying--make every bit of downloaded information count.
  8. Test your designs on real users. This applies to both the instructional design and the user interface, with all its icons, buttons, and navigational features. Your personal concept of usability may not apply to the target audience. Seek the advice of a usability engineer, human factors expert, or cognitive psychologist. Products of bad design instill resentment in the user and place a barrier to learning. The developers' maxim: test early, test often.


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Copyright © 1994 - 2016 Tim Kilby. All rights reserved.
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