At the university we agree the goal of instruction is to communicate meaningful and relevant information. Instructors determine what their audience requires from a course and develop significant content to meet student’s needs. Ideally, programs of study have curriculum maps to guide professors in the development of teaching and learning activities.
The role of visual design and metacognition is strategic to facilitating interactive e-learning. Even when content is intact, we must incorporate design principles in the course development process – specifically for e-learning success. Why is design so important?
Visual design aligns with our goal to communicate meaningful and relevant information. We live in a culture immersed with visual design. And because people learn in a variety of ways – by doing, by seeing, by hearing, and a combination of these approaches, it is important to employ visual literacy in courses. “Visual literacy is what is seen with the eye and what is ‘seen’ with the mind. A visually literate person should be able to read and write visual language (Bamford, 2003).”
The e-learning environment that employs design principles will engage all learners – and provide a comfortable setting for learning to occur. Of course it’s not all about design. There are many principles (e.g., attention, reinforcement, motivation, mental models, etc.) that work toward facilitating learning – yet a focus on the role of visual design is often overlooked.
Clark & Mayer (2011) “define e-learning as instruction delivered on a digital device such as a computer or mobile device that is intended to support learning.” According to Alessi and Trollip (2001), “the goal of educational multimedia is to facilitate learning outcomes for a defined audience (p. 482).”
E-learning is supported by Situated Cognition, a learning theory, where learners participate in activities within a community of practice while instructors model best practices related to the learning experience at hand (Driscoll, p. 182).
Instructors teaching online are, typically, concerned with creating and/or facilitating interactive and engaging e-learning. Engaged learning occurs when the instructor and learners collaborate to build the knowledge base for their learning experience (Conrad & Donaldson, 2004, p. ix).
Kuhn & Dean (2004, p. 270) define metacognition as awareness of one’s own thinking, awareness of the content of one’s conceptions, and active control and management of one’s own thinking. “Metacognition is associated with planning, monitoring, evaluating and repairing performance (Kirsh, 2004).”
Thus, within e-learning, metacognition controls the interaction between the learner and the environment. Effective interaction online is decided by how well the student relates to the learning environment including how they interpret documents; verify concepts and facts; and value designs (Kirsh, 2004).
While the focus of metacognition is often on internal regulation, designers promote e-learning by stressing cognitive efficiency through effective visual design with external mechanisms such as visual cues and workflows (Kirsh, 2004).
Putting it all together
According to CAST, a nonprofit research and development organization dedicated to expanding learning opportunities, “Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a set of principles for curriculum development that gives all individuals equal opportunities to learn.”
CAST differentiates UDL into recognition networks (the what of learning), strategic networks (the how of learning), and affective networks (the why of learning). Why is visual design important to effective e-learning?
Not only does good visual design regulate the usability, readability, and attractiveness of e-learning (Tomko & Zaitseva, 2009) but it also improves metacognition (Kirsh, 2004).
The image in this post has been shared with the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License (CC by 2.0). This work is attributed to Michael Mandiberg on Flickr.
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Driscoll, M. (2005). Psychology of learning for instruction. (Third ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.
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Tomko, V., & Zaitseva, S. (2009). Visual design of e-learning systems. Paper presented at Ninth IEEE international conference on advanced learning technologies. DOI: 10.1109/ICALT.2009.20