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The challenges of and guidelines for enhancing the readability of online learning content

Authors Tam, Barbara
Issue Date 2001-12-12
Source Proceedings of the first teaching and learning symposium, Hong Kong , Senate Committee on Teaching and Learning Quality, and Center for Enhanced Learning and Teaching, HKUST , 12 Dec. 2001, p. 181-189
Summary Without doubt, the Internet is one of the most powerful media for disseminating information as it is widely accessible, cheap, and quick. Nowadays, a lot of online courses are available on the Internet. The hypertext environment seems to be offering a number of advantages to writers of online materials. However, many online materials fail to disseminate a clear message because the writer fails to account for the differences between writing online and in print. As Raskin (1987) has pointed out, “Hypertext seems like a wonderful universally applicable, powerful, natural, human-oriented model for organizing and accessing knowledge…But when asked how the ends are made to meet…the designers become inspecific and waffle.” Putting material online is not just turning a traditional file into a file format supported by the computer. We need to apply the basics and attend to the differences. It is the skills of the writer, not the capabilities of the machine, that decide the readability. The first section of this paper seeks to investigate some of the challenges faced by people who develop online teaching and learning materials, brought about by things like smaller screen display, reduced reading speed, different viewing habits online etc. It leads to the second section, where guidelines and some dos-and-don’ts on improving readability are summarized from the literature and from my experience working on different online course development projects. The contents of this paper are based partly on literature review and partly on my experience working with UST faculty members or instructors on developing content for online courses. I have tried to conclude what some of the online documentation designers have said, for writing or re-creating online content. The arguments have been supported by evidence from personal experience. As the term “online materials” can refer to a number of different formats of content, I will touch on textual information only, in order to be more focused, due to the limited scale of this paper.
Language English
Format Conference paper
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