A while ago, over 100 learning professionals were asked what one thing most annoys them about online learning materials. Their responses were both varied and – significantly – many. Of these, the 13 most annoying traits of online learning materials were:


Patronising the learner

  • Having a section called ‘how to use this e-learning module’
  • Spelling out the materials’ objective – such as ‘By the end of this module you will have learned…’
  • Text-heavy sections labelled ‘Background’ or ‘History’- and the related issue of getting learners to read a company policy in the guise of it being ‘e-learning’.


Poor screen design

  • Pages cluttered – confusingly – with text and clipart graphics
  • Using text to explain what each button does, rather than letting the users explore and find out for themselves.
  • The use of fading text and pictures – in and out, in and out…- which just frustrates the user.
  • Inane, irrelevant and ineffective interactions – including fatuous multiple-choice questions.


Poor program design

  • The lack of a ‘page-turning’ running theme to keep user interest.
  • Having a robotic voice read all of the text as it appears on the screen – with no option to move on until the voice finishes (it’s a timeline the user can’t control).
  • Seeing the messages: Error 404. ‘Not Found’ and ‘Unable to open http://www…..’
  • Step locking – that is, making the user click everything that’s possible to click on before the page will advance (to ‘ensure understanding’ by the learner).


Performance issues

  • Images, such as an animated clock, along with the message ‘loading’ which takes several minutes to disappear, or the message, ‘Hang on, we’re having technical difficulties’ – followed by a frozen screen.
  • As the user submits something, the message appears on screen, ‘Sorry, your session has timed out’ – resulting in everything the user had produced disappearing into the ether.


If these traits seem worryingly familiar or, worse still, they’re recognisable in some of your own e-learning output, then there’s some useful guidance on how to make learning outcomes ‘work’, from Phil Race, at http://phil-race.co.uk/most-popular-downloads


On a different level, though, is the e-learning material – however it’s delivered – really what the learning is all about? Isn’t the real learning encapsulated and demonstrated in the activities that learners undertake, applying the knowledge they’ve gained having worked through the e-learning materials? After all, you can learn the Highway Code until by rote and you can use all the driving simulators there are but you can never say you’ve learnt to drive until you do it in a vehicle on a real road in the real world.


It’s well-known that we learn by doing. Yet e-learning materials still ask learners to read something, watch a video and/or listen to audio and then answer some questions. How does anyone – including the user – know they’ve really understood what they’re supposed to have understood unless their understanding is demonstrated in reality?


After all, despite what those in the learning technologies world might prefer to believe, e-learning is not, nor can it be, the real world.