pattern #5 - text



Deliver your key instructional messages using text that supports the learning objectives (e.g. definition, description, data).

  • VALUE Support Instructional Message
  • Design Effort Low
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Text is the most versatile media form, the most used and far too often, over abused. Text is a comfortable choice in eLearning design. Everyone knows how to do it and there is this common understanding that people will read the text and learn from it.
It is common to see text introduced in large quantities in learning courses, written in a formal style that fails to engage learners and focused on theory rather than the practical applicability.
Because text is seen as playing primarily a support role for other media forms, it gets the least attention in most eLearning design resources.
The use of text is not straightforward but luckily, Richard Mayer embedded text extensively in its multimedia principles so we have enough research readily available to proficiently make use of this resource.

Key Characteristics

Instructional Copy

Using instructional copywriting techniques, it is essential to reduce the amount of text provided by client or subject experts from various resources, removing unnecessary information, replace words and expression that may be difficult to understand.
One important twist you need to do when writing instructional copy is switching from a formal/impersonal format of the text (which is quite common) to a conversational style that make learners feel like they are in a conversation. According to Mayer’s Principle of Personalization, this helps learners engage with computers as a social conversational partner. Research on text cognitive processing shows that learners work harder when they feel they are in a conversation with an author, rather than just receiving information. Mayer’s research on social cues proves the same thing. Having social cues in a text (such as “I” or “you” and a conversation tone) will engage your learners in deeper cognitive processing.


Readability is the ease with which text can be read and readable text can be scanned quickly, from a distance. Make sure you use typefaces that are known for readability, such as Verdana and Georgia.
To improve readability, consider these three components:
•Line Length. Lines that are too long will tire the eye while short ones take longer to read. Research shows that the line length should typically be somewhere between 45 and 75;
•Contrast. There should always be enough contrast between the text and the foreground, especially when there is a lot to read. However, too much contrast, such as black text on white foreground, can cause a sense of vibration for the eye. The best trade-off I commonly find is dark grey text on white background works better;
•Align. When we switch to the next line of text, we tend to use the end of the line as a visual cue to know where we were and make sure we won’t skip a line; This is why, for learning at least, it is important to align left all text;
As a personal note, I think sometimes aesthetics are just as important as readability, so I always suggest trying some designer fonts, such as Helvetica or Open Sans.
You can always put the readability of your content to test using some of the free tools available online.

Use text with graphic resources

Learning materials should include words and graphics supporting each other, rather than text alone. According to Mayer’s Multimedia Principle, using graphics and text rather than text alone was researched by 11 studies. All of them showed that that the use of both text and graphics is better than text alone, with those resources that included text and graphics producing 55% to 121% more correct solutions to transfer problems, with a median gain of 89%.
Having said all that, it is important to have in mind that not all graphics are useful. While it is common sense not to use images that have a decorative role, the ones that work best with text are representational (photos, illustration, screenshots), organizational (tables, diagrams), transformational (video showing evolution from baby to adult), interpretative (image showing similarities between two species).
Mayer’s Contiguity principle also states that text should be placed near corresponding graphics.


As with any book, it is best to have a standardized structure and typefaces and use that consistently for title, headings and body. It pretty much depends on your audience, but generally minimum font-size of 14 should be used, while 16 will work better for younger and older audiences;

Typography Etiquette

You should always use text formatting to make the content easier to read; most important is to make use of headings and bullet points to create structure.
Styles can help if used appropriately, but consider the fact that some styles, such as Italic or coloured text, can make your text harder to read;


Some fonts are better than others and depending on your target audience, make sure you research which font works best; for example, some fonts are better than others for learners with dyslexia, such as Arial or Comic Sans (although I would strongly not recommend using Comic Sans);


As one of the most used media forms, text is often overused. The rule is that for novice learners, the amount of text you can use should not be more than 150 words per activity.
For expert learners, who have developed strong mental maps to organize information and who have solid practical knowledge, text-only can be an efficient format as well.

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