Once upon a time not so very long ago, an organization rolled out their latest style guide. It had their color palette, the guidelines for using their logo, the standards for images, and more. In short, all the usual elements of a style guide.
Then the organization started hiring contractors to update their existing eLearning courses, so they’d match the new guidelines. And they were swamped by emails asking for clarifications:
- “Should the people who purchase the organization’s offerings be called ‘customers,’ ‘clients,’ or ‘buyers’?”
- “What’s your preference for wording interaction prompts? (Ex. ‘Click,’ ‘select,’ ‘choose,’ etc.).”
- “The hover states on the buttons are inconsistent. Some buttons have them, others don’t. How do you want me to handle that?”
- “Do you have question formatting guidelines? The questions don’t seem to follow any specific structure, so I figured I’d check.”
Style guides don’t always have the answers to questions like these. Nomenclature and writing guidelines are frequently absent, or perhaps they’re a separate document. And eLearning often gets grouped under “web” guidelines.
How Web and eLearning Guidelines are Different
While “web” may be a logical starting point, there’s a lot that it doesn’t usually cover. Most websites don’t have drag and drop interactions or assessment questions the visitor is supposed to answer. They don’t use SCORM or xAPI or have audio narration. So, there are a lot of important considerations for eLearning that aren’t generally included in web style guides.
eLearning Style Guide Considerations
Consider making a style guide specifically for eLearning. That’s not to say that every eLearning course has to look and work the exact same way. But the elements your organization wants be consistent across the board ought to be documented. This is especially important if you use contractors to create learning content, but applies to internal teams as well. If you have these considerations clearly spelled out it can cut down on a lot of back and forth emails, which will save time and frustration.
An eLearning style guide could include:
- Any copyright or legal notice requirements
- Tracking standards – SCORM 1.2, SCORM 2004, xAPI, AICC, etc.
- Completion requirements – If a course is scored, what’s the passing score or how does it need to be calculated? Does the learner pass simply by viewing each slide? Does the completion requirement depend on the type of course? Etc.
- The usual visual guidelines – colors, logo use, image standards, etc.
- How to address the learner – Should they be referred to directly as “you”? Is “we” preferred since it’s more inclusive and speaks from the organization’s perspective? Etc.
- The “tone” of the language – Should it be casual and friendly? Does it need to be formal and technical? Etc.
- Interaction prompt formatting preferences – Ex. “Click Next to continue.” vs “Select the NEXT button to continue.”
- Interaction guidelines – Should questions’ answer options be shuffled? Are buttons supposed to have hover states or sound effects? Etc.
- Question writing guidelines
- Nomenclature considerations – the proper names of the organization’s most popular products and services, what to call someone who uses or buys those offerings, a glossary of commonly used industry terms and acronyms, etc.
- Closed caption text requirements
This isn’t an exhaustive list. Hopefully it gets the basic idea across.
Conventional style guides often omit information that’s important for eLearning. It’s a good idea to have a style guide specifically designed with eLearning in mind. Having this resource will help keep your online offerings consistent while decreasing back and forth emails.
If you’d like to read more about training, learning, and instructional design check out the rest of this author’s blogs.
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