Recently, I came across a learning module with a neon green background on the very first page. Neon green! It was such a bad first impression that I couldn’t get past it. Eyes watering, I was immediately sceptical that the module could deliver worthwhile learning. I skimmed over the rest of the content, not taking any of it in, because I no longer trusted that it was worth my time. The content might have been great, but I don’t know because that one mistake at the beginning unconsciously prejudiced me to the rest of the content.

It’s our biggest fear when we’re designing a module, isn’t it? That we make one little mistake that loses the learner’s engagement and we’ll never get it back. All that time and effort we put in was wasted and we don’t know why.

We can’t control the learner’s entire experience- everyone brings their own unique situation that influences how they’ll receive the learning. But we can avoid the mistakes that are small but significant, and fortunately, they’re easy to remedy.

1.       Death by text

Look, we get it, writing a few paragraphs is quick and easy. Normally, we’re all about quick and easy. However, a learning object that’s nothing but text, text and more text will only come back to bite you. Think of text as like the cement that glues bricks together, with the bricks being moments of engagement such as videos, animations, scenarios or interactive elements. Ultimately, you’re building a house out of bricks, not cement- right? When text is over-used, filling up page after page with no break, your learners are quickly going to tune out and your learning becomes forgettable faster than you can wipe the drool off your face. Use text carefully, and make sure it’s punchy and to-the-point to keep your learners focused and engaged.

2.       Squinty eyes

Yep, I’m talking about the neon green background. Backgrounds are best kept as pale, pastel or neutral colours. If you’re using an image, make sure it’s simple, because a busy background can obscure text or distract from the content. Overall, keep your backgrounds soft and easy to look at, because your learner is going to see more of the background than anything else on the screen.

Don’t forget to check that your colours are accessible too. Whenever we’re picking colours at How Too colours for text, backgrounds and accents, we make sure that we run the colours through a contrast checker, like this one. The tool compares the level of contrast between colours that are sitting on top of each other. A high level of contrast means the content is clear and easy to see- no squinting required. This reduces eye strain and creates a better experience for everyone.

3.       Skipping the foundations

Defining and perfecting your learning objects can feel like a waste of time. As a details-orientated person, the big-picture planning usually makes my eyes glaze over. But I know that if I skip the learning objectives, I’m setting myself up for danger before I’ve even begun.

Learning objectives are a critical tool for focusing your content. They help you to identify and cut away all the superfluous content that will waste your time and confuse your learner. Once you’ve defined your objectives, you should be checking every page against them to see if you’re staying on track. A clear sign that you’ve gotten off track is if you can’t clearly signpost to your learner how the content on that page will help them achieve the learning objectives.


There you have it- three quick tips on small but significant pitfalls to avoid when creating your digital learning experience.