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E-learning Style Guide: Ensuring Consistency in Online Courses

We looked at how style guides are important in establishing consistency and regularity in e-learning products that are professional and polished, in our last blog. Having your own style guide, reflecting your institution’s preferences is the first step in standardizing the style elements in e-learning. Creating a standard style guide saves time, effort, and the cost of bringing out a consistent and standardized output. Institutions can take help from popular standardized style books such as AP Stylebook, the Chicago Manual of Style, the AMA Manual of Style, etc., to build their own preferential points of reference.

Essential Tips to Create an Effective Style Guide:

Today let’s discuss a few tips about the essentials of creating an effective style guide for your institution.

While there are a number of elements that style guides need to standardize, grammar, formatting, and other styles are generally accepted as the 3 basic elements that a style guide should elaborate and specify.

1. Grammar

Grammatical mistakes are a huge put-off, negatively impacting the trust and confidence of learners in e-learning modules. Laying down guidelines for framing objectives, content, questions, makes the task of instructional designers easy and standardized. Common grammatical areas or the primary points of reference that style guides should incorporate include:

  • Rules on the usage of abbreviations, acronyms
  • Capitalization
  • Commas
  • Dashes and hyphens
  • Colons and semi-colons
  • Numbering
  • Units of measurement
  • Preferred voice of language (active/passive)
  • Citing references
  • Consistency in the usage of American and British English
  • Parallelism

These become critical in building a positive interface between the course and the learner, and reinforce the reliability of the e-learning product. Common guidelines on these aspects can ensure that different instructional designers and new recruits stick to an accepted norm and produce a consistent and uniform end product.

2. Formatting

Formatting and referencing styles is another essential component style guides should definitely include. The final e-learning output, usually created by different individuals and teams, will have a uniform and common thread if the style guide specifies the character restrictions, preferred fonts, line spacing and page layout, method of using graphics in modules/courses, etc. Apart from making the end product aesthetically appealing, a common style guide, as we already saw in the last blog, significantly reduces the amount of time, effort, and money put into creating courses.

Formatting refers to essential core inputs that lay down the specifics about elements such as:

  • Setting rules for the usage of periods (are used in bulleted lists)
  • Fonts and the size of fonts preferred for titles, sub-headings, and body
  • Graphics styles and sizes
  • Preferred spacing so that slides look the same, without marked differences
  • Usage of borders
  • Types and styles of tables used
  • Common page layouts to be used across courses/modules

It represents the standardization and formalization of practices that most organizations tacitly and explicitly adhere to.

3. Miscellaneous Styles

While grammar and formatting are the basic requirements of a style guide, it has emerged that rules on a number of other related elements help in developing and creating a standardized product, essential for branding and creating a brand value in the current era. It pays to have a set of guidelines governing:

  • Images: Specify whether photos or illustrations will be used, their size, placement vis-à-vis content, and other effects such as borders
  • Colors: Identify primary color and secondary colors to be used
  • Logos and visual elements (photos, images, and the sizes of images) used for consistency and general aesthetic finish

All ingredients commonly used in creating e-learning products should be defined and specified to convey a preferred tone and mood to everyone involved in developing an e-learning course. Colors are now effectively used to not only set the mood of learning, but to also enhance mood and the learning environment. A style guide can make effective use of the impact of colors to create conditions and an environment receptive to learning.

Focusing on the visible output is the most significant component in e-learning and this thus, needs to be the core focus of style guides. The difference between success and failure in e-learning, to a great extent, depends on the overall content experience, functionality, design, and aesthetics that captivate learners and clients. Style guides lay the rules of operation in these areas, and ensure an output and experience that reinforces a positive interface between the course and the learner, and ensures a satisfactory e-learning experience.

The State of Learning: 2023 and Beyond