English, plain & simple

Fewer words, shorter words, short sentences…

There is an art to expressing yourself with fewer words. It’s a very valuable one when applied to learning.

There is a concept – ‘Cognitive Load’. Whenever you look at learning materials, every word, every diagram, new colour or new concept adds to the cognitive load. As ID, it’s my job to make sure that before that cognitive container gets filled up, the information going in there is what we need to meet the learning goals. Let’s not waste the learners’ attention span with flowery language, distracting layouts, unnecessary pictures or anything else that distracts them from the intended message.

E-learning materials need to be written for a wide audience – often people who do not have English as a first language. The learning materials should not be a comprehension test. The students should be able to focus on what they are supposed to learn – not struggling to get through the materials that will get them there.

Some of my most valuable work at EASA was in going through other people’s presentations and drastically reducing the word count. Often this would allow us to simplify presentations – keeping the words on the screen trimmed down to the key messages. If a word can be taken out and the meaning is still clear, remove it. If we consider a learner who will lose concentration after, say, reading 1000 words. Let’s make sure that those 1000 words contain all that they need to learn.

…of course, also, writing clearly and simply makes translation easier – and cheaper, as they usually charge by the word!