3 key elements of successful SCORM course design you need to know

Jennifer Bell
Smiling woman wearing a black shirt and a black blazer
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The design of your online training can contribute to — or imperil — the success of your SCORM courses. Designers who pay attention to the essential design elements described below boost their chances of higher engagement, longer retention, and better overall results from their eLearning courses. 

SCORM course design matters. Here’s why.

Far too often, eLearning SCORM courses are churned out using a template with little attention to their look and feel. This is a mistake. 

While the essence of instructional design may emphasize content needed to achieve carefully crafted learning objectives, the visual design of a SCORM course impacts its usability, the accessibility of the content, and the amount of effort that learners need to expend just to use the content — the cognitive load

As eLearning design consultant Dawn Mahoney wrote in Learning Solutions, “Visual design is so much more than making things pretty and fitting eLearning into corporate brand standards. It should evoke emotion, spark creativity, challenge learners to recognize the familiar—and much more.”

Investing time and effort to perfect your use of color and typography; creating an effective layout; and using animations and other flourishes with intention are SCORM course design elements that will pay off in engagement and results.

1. Use of color and typography

You may need to work within the constraints of your organization's branding and style guidelines when designing the overall look — the typefaces, to color palette — of your SCORM courses. But you still have choices to make that can reduce the cognitive load and improve the accessibility of your eLearning courses:

  • Ensure that all text is clear and easy to read and will work on any screen size, from a smart phone to a desktop monitor.
  • When choosing text and background colors, check for contrast and ensure that color combinations are easy to read.
  • Choose colors and color combinations that reinforce the mood you are trying to set: bright colors can be stimulating or “fun,” while cooler colors might be soothing or set a more serious tone.

Keeping your SCORM course design clear and uncluttered is the first step toward better training outcomes!

2. Elements of effective eLearning course layout

Abstract image of circles varying in size and color against a yellow wall and floor. A few circles are stuck to the wall, some lay flat on the floor; the largest circle lays partly on the floor, then folds where the floor and wall meet to go along the wall.

The secret to an effective layout is balancing diversity of design elements with consistency. Here’s how that might work:

  • Use consistent elements throughout your SCORM course design for navigation and types of content. For example, use a consistent look and placement for tips or knowledge checks or diagrams.
  • Ensure that all elements, whether  text, video, interactive, or graphical, enhance the overall message and content rather than adding elements just for visual appeal.
  • Create and enforce a visual hierarchy that introduces elements from the most important to the least and makes it immediately clear which elements should get the most attention. The layers help you build narrative and continuity while revealing content in a logical — scaffolded — manner.
  • An effective layout is uncluttered and clear, with plenty of white space. It generally follows a grid pattern to align and balance the various elements on each screen. Test your content on different screen sizes to ensure that the layout remains balanced and tidy.

Keeping your course design uncluttered helps learners navigate more easily and reduces cognitive load.

3. Use animations, interactivities, and graphics with intention

Successful SCORM courses have got to include more than screen after screen filled with text and the occasional image. Using animations and interactivities stimulates learners and provides opportunities for active learning and practicing the concepts and processes the eLearning course covers. On the other hand, it’s easy to overdo the flourishes.

Follow these guidelines to strike a balance that will engage learners, hold their attention, and reinforce learning while remaining true to your overarching goal of creating effective eLearning. 

  • Use animations and other special effects to highlight essential elements and content. Examples include highlighting a critical note or warning or using hotspot graphics to lead learners to key tips and content.
  • An animation can be used to reveal content in a specific order, unveiling each step in a process once the learner has digested the previous steps, for example. 
  • Match the animation or graphical element to the tone of the SCORM course: A lighthearted cartoon drawing to illustrate teaching on a serious safety issue would be a mismatch that could lead learners to discount the gravity of the content.
  • Ensure that any activities or animations enhance the teaching and engage learners in learning — not in playing. Asking learners to do silly things, such as moving the pieces of an opening screen into place to launch a course or shoot at a target to unlock the next chapter, adds cognitive load without reinforcing the course content. 
  • SCORM LMSs and other online training platforms that support gamification offer additional ways to engage learners in interactive learning, such as competitive contests, games and mazes, scavenger hunts, or puzzles. Be careful when using features like timed questions or quizzes or drag-and-drop matching exercises, as these can present accessibility challenges. Always build an accessible alternative when using such content types, or allow learners to set controls, such as deactivating the timer. 

Following these strategies ensures that your SCORM course designs are engaging and fun while remaining effective.

Improve your visual design for more successful SCORM courses

Following these guidelines will improve your SCORM course design — and can be applied to any online training materials you design, regardless of delivery platform or medium. Effective eLearning course design is consistent but with enough surprising elements and variety to hold learners’ attention. It is visually attractive without too many decorative flourishes. And it draws learners in and engages them without demanding that they exert effort and spend time figuring out what to do or playing games that have no connection to the learning materials. 

It’s a balance that takes time and skill to get right. Finding that balance enables you to combine all design components and provide a pleasing, interactive way of learning. This is the key to a successful SCORM course.

LearningHub: free resources for eLearning

The Neovation Learning Hub contains many free resources and articles that can help you improve eLearning outcomes at your organization. Continue learning about eLearning Authoring topics, read more about Custom eLearning Development, or find new eLearning tools to help you with your eLearning initiatives.

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Jennifer Bell

Jennifer is the Team Leader for Neovation's Custom Learning team with a background in sales, leadership, training and development, and a passion for helping clients achieve their training dreams.

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