Can eLearning designers learn from retail designers?

Creating engaging eLearning Part 1

Last night I was catching up with ‘Mary Queen of Shops’ where she was trying to help a dwindling DIY business based in a sizable village. On her arrival she was met with a busy shop front with all sorts of bric-a-brac displayed haphazardly outside. The windows were packed with notices of all shapes and sizes – that is if you could see them through the grime.

Once inside the shop, Mary was immediately faced with clutter, this DIY shop didn’t seem to know it was DIY store at all with greetings cards, ladies comfy shoes, toys and very dodgy ‘china’ products filling every nook and cranny of space. The result? Confusion and an urge to get out of there fast. What’s more, the staff didn’t seem to know anything about the products they sold so they couldn’t provide the customer with any help or advice.

To convince the shop owner there was need to change, they paid a visit to a well know DIY chainstore. What a difference. From the outside it was clear what the store did. Window displays were engaging and enticing. Once inside there were clear lanes well signposted and colour coded and staff were easily identified and conversant in their products but most of all there was….


Space to breathe, space to decide where to go, space to see things clearly.

The proprietor of the little DIY store didn’t get it…. look at all this wasted space…. imagine what else they could pack in and potentially sell. He really didn’t get it.

As I sat and watched I realised exactly the same was happening with eLearning. The little DIY store, poorly designed and set out was like poorly thought out, poorly designed elearning that is crammed full of information the learner doesn’t need for the task at hand. No space to breathe, confusing navigation and an urge to fill every bit of white space with something no matter how irrelevant.

Good eLearning is like the large DIY store – clear signage, lots of white space, clear navigation and time to think and choose the right route.

That’s where the analogy stops – I’m not saying the small organisations create poor eLearning or that large organisations create great eLearning – far from it. It is more to do with the ability and creativity of the designer not the size of the organisation.

So what can eLearning designers learn from this programme? 

Here are 10 top tips

1. Have a clear objective – know what you want to deliver
2. Think creatively
3. Give your learners space
4. Keep the information relevant to the task at hand
5. Give careful thought to aesthetics – learn some basic graphic design principles
6. Less is more
7. Set clear navigation
9. Allow your learner to think for themselves not confuse them with clutter
10. Provide help and support when needed

To quote Mary, “if you create a space that your customers enjoy being – they will enjoy buying” which is exactly what we need to achieve with great engaging eLearning.

What ideas do you have that we can borrow from retail?

Part 2: Putting the learning back in eLearning

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