Bring Simplicity to Your eLearning Design

Each day, the amount of data created increases by about 2.5 quintillion bytes, and 90 percent of the data in existence comes from the past two years (Marr, 2018). Without a guide (or a friendly-neighborhood librarian), it’s impossible to sort through that much data on our own. It’s no wonder our learners struggle with information overload (“Information Overload,” 2019).

As instructional designers, we understand the complexity of our learner’s lives makes it difficult to sort through extraneous information. Too much information means the learner doesn’t know what to focus on—which is why we try to make it simpler for them to figure out.

In Simplicity in Design: 4 Ways to Achieve Simplicity in Your Designs, Euphemia Wong (2019) offers four tips for simplifying interactions:

  1. Maintain Clarity: Understand and Design for your Users’ Main Goals
  2. Make Use of Automation: Design for a Minimum Amount of Conscious and Cognitive Effort
  3. Limit Options: Design for a Strong “Information Scent”
  4. Reduce the “Gulf of Execution”: Make your Users See Why they should Use your Product

You don’t need to remove everything to simplify a course. Instead, evaluate each piece of content the learner interacts with. As you create your learning experience, ask yourself following questions.

Is the Purpose of Your Course Clear to the Learner’s Goals?

Learning outcomes describe what a learner will (or should) be able to demonstrate after taking a course. Each module or week’s learning objectives should show students how they’ll meet the learning outcomes.

Learning content should be useful, relevant, and informative. Every reading, image, interaction, activity, assignment, and assessment should have a purpose. If it’s not tied directly to a learning outcome, it’s just a distraction (and probably a waste of the learner’s time)—definitely not useful or relevant.

Is Your Course Easy to Navigate and Useable?

Everything from the course design and graphics to the written copy takes mental effort to process. Remember, plain writing and clean design remove barriers to learning by making your course clear, concise, and consistent. Similarly, you should choose meaningful names to reduce cognitive effort.

Is it Obvious to the Learner the Information Provided is Meaningful?

It’s hard for learners to decide what’s important if everything’s important. Once you’ve agreed upon the learning outcomes of the course or module with your subject matter expert (SME), help the SME curate the essential content—specific to what the student actually needs to learn.

Does Your Learner See How Your Course Will Help Them Reach Their Goals

It seems like it should be clear to the learner that the course will help them reach his or her goals. But this isn’t always the case.

As designers, we have to overcome the bias that comes from familiarity—we built the course, so we know how it works and what the student needs to do. It’s easy to forget it might not be obvious how it’ll help them learn the content. That’s why it’s important for us to think like our learners and stay student-centered as we design.

A course with clear navigation, relevant learning outcomes, and meaningful content and design goes a long way to help learners choose your course to reach their goals.

What do you do to simplify your eLearning course? Let us know!


Information overload, why it matters and how to combat it. (2019, April 13).

Marr, B. (2018, May 21). How much data do we create every day? The mind-blowing stats everyone should read.

Wong, E. (2019, March). Simplicity in design: 4 ways to achieve simplicity in your designs.

Author: Jessica Bishop, Instructional Designer

Jessica is a designer and writer focused on learnability, storytelling, sensemaking, wayfinding, and removing barriers to learning. A Michigan native, she likes crafting, reading, walking, and spending way too much time in the distant corners of the internet. You can also find her at

2 thoughts on “Bring Simplicity to Your eLearning Design”

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: