Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Aesthetically Challenged

I am designing a hybrid online course while also deciding which color to have my kitchen cabinets painted. In both regard I am feeling inadequate in my abilities to create things that are attractive and pleasing to the eye. Luckily, the painting company I hired has offered a consultation with an interior designer. As for the online course I am referring to Interface Design for Learning by Dorian Peters and The Online Teaching Survival Guide by Boettcher and Conrad. Since aesthetics isn't always a strength of mine I will take all the help I can get.

They way information is presented and the design/ layout of online learning influences me as a learner so I can only assume it affects my students. Peters in Interface Design for Learning has a whole chapter devoted to the aesthetics. (Pg. 75-115) He even states, “The relationship between interface attractiveness and improved usability is known as the aesthetics-usability effect” (pg. 77) Yes, there is a term for what I am trying to achieve!

I am designing an online course for 4th grade students. I am trying to keep each screen simple enough for the students to focus on the core content but interesting enough to stay engaged. I am trying to employ color as it, “has shown to help learners understand and remember, to increase engagement, and enhance effectiveness of visuals” but it also can, “depress learning when overused” (Peters, pg. 82) I am also trying to organize the material on the page so that there is a hierarchy to the learning and the students don’t get distracted by superfluous information, while giving credit to the correct sources. This is more of a delicate balance then what I have previously thought.

While looking for various games to add to my online course I have found quite a few educational game sites that have felt aesthetically overwhelming. Some sites presented a great quantity of information about how to play the game and others had so many visuals that I had a hard time distinguishing a course of action. I am wondering if this is the way gaming sites are constructed or do I feel this way because I am not 10 years old. Are kids able to take in a rapid amount of visuals these days that I am not accustomed to? Is this a strategy I am not understanding that I should be incorporating into my course? 


  1. Hi Claire,

    I am curious how others might respond to your question. I often watch kids with their fascinating little game players and wonder about that as well.

    My assumption is that some children, through their 'play', gain a natural proficiency with rapid consumption of digital visuals. But would a course incorporating that put kids that do not spend as much time on gaming sites or on game players at a disadvantage? Further - if some students nearly require the hype active digital environment to hold their attention while it causes overload for others - then where does that leave you?

    I ran into this with some medical trainings I was doing where my modules were critiqued for NOT providing enough differentiated information, ie the audio needed to be complimentary to the visuals but not duplicate the information in them. The reason is that the learners taking these courses were very accustomed to taking these testing courses. On the contrary, another group I worked with requested that the audio be exactly the same as the on screen information for the opposite reasoning.

  2. Claire,

    I am also amazed at how kids can focus on all the crazy colors and graphics in games these days. I think they are more accustomed to it because they have grown up staring at computer monitors and tablets, I had very little interaction with electronics until I was an adult.

    One suggestion I have for you is to try and make your content more engaging by adding items that are clickable. Colors are fantastic, but they do not provide any interaction. I would try to include videos, links, and items that students have to click on throughout the modules. I use interaction building software like eLearning Brothers to create clickable content within the modules. Here is one I created for a college course I am working on: http://onlinetrainingtemplates.com/api/shared/1879aaa1-8bf1-4d3d-b3d3-fc389a62e6af

    You are on the right track!

    -Amy Linville

  3. Thanks for the post Claire! You bring up a lot of interesting points and did a great job of referencing our readings. The importance of color schemes cannot be understated.

    In terms of the high amount of visual stimulation for games, I think that has become the norm. Kids seem to be able to stay focused with this over stimulation, but I wonder what effect this may have on them in other areas of life? Does this impact their ability to focus in the classroom?

  4. I like that you really looked into this as an important factor. I know this is random, but I am a huge sports fan, and a total geek when it comes to the aesthetics of uniforms. I have found that this carries into my real life, and I had the same issues when creating my module. I found that a simple clean look was best for me. I actually was pretty happy with the basic themes of schoology. Great Post!

  5. Clare, having 5 boys has shown me that overstimulation in gaming spills "over" into other areas of life. That is what makes games so addicting and reading just a plain old book so boring. They don't have to think for themselves; they have a screen and game to do it for them. It's entertainment-even at a learning level. Now, I'm not saying do away with the gaming concept, it's does have great qualities (and bribing privileges!) but everything we do is "learning" and children need to learn at a young age these days how to use gaming in moderation. More isn't necessarily better. I created my learning module for 2nd graders, so I had to look at this issue too. It's difficult, because children have a variety of exposure to technology, so some may find simple boring while others find it fun. Let us know what you choose to do. Thanks!

  6. We share that challenge, Clare! It sounds though that you have prepared yourself well for the challenge by referring to the authors or our texts. I think you could also benefit by following the concept of CARP (for your site, not kitchen -- carp rarely make good kitchen accessories). Not only is it simple and easy to apply, the ILT program actually requires it for our work.

  7. I love your comment about keeping the screens engaging without being overwhelming. I've found that students notice some things on sites that are overwhelming (or may be for me), but certainly not everything. I think being thoughtful about what you put up, and how, will pay off big with your kids.