Clear, consistent eLearning reduces cognitive load and improves LX, or learner experience. A style guide helps ensure consistency and improve the quality and clarity of content. And, according to Trina Rimmer, a community manager for Articulate, using an interactive eLearning style guide has benefits that go far beyond improved content.

“I don’t really see any disadvantages to creating and using an eLearning style guide. Any time spent creating or maintaining a style guide is usually offset by the time saved working with clients in the long run,” Rimmer said in an online interview.

Some advantages are common to all style guide users, especially media outlets and publishers, while others are unique to eLearning:

  • Consistency: Get “everyone on the same page” in terms of usage, spelling and punctuation, content flow, and behavior.
  • Coherence and usability: Define visual and functional design preferences and standards, department-wide or per-project.
  • Continuity: Provide new team members with the info they need, quickly.
  • Communication: Clarify, early in a project, how all stakeholders understand the look, feel, and behavior of elements to prevent misunderstandings that could delay the project.

A time-saving collaboration

Creating a project-specific style guide might take only a few hours—longer for a client with considerable customization needs. Or, a large L&D team might create a more comprehensive effort that requires more work initially and ongoing maintenance, as well as input from and collaboration with marketing and branding teams.

“That process is probably going to take weeks or months to complete, but I still think it’s well worth it,” Rimmer said. “You’ll have also created a resource for your team to use with internal clients to illustrate your team’s design standards going forward. And, it’s a great onboarding tool so new team members can become productive contributors more quickly.”

Facilitate design through dialogue

Misunderstandings are common during the design and development of eLearning projects. Rimmer contends that creating a style guide with the client, whether a new or repeat client, whether new to eLearning or experienced, is time well spent.

The process entails—requires—thinking about standards. How should navigation aids look and function? How do interactive activities behave? This process can make the entire development process, including visual design and UX design, go more smoothly.

“One of the first things I recommend we do is define some eLearning standards. That process is incredibly helpful in saving time by ensuring that my work meets the clients’ expectations,” Rimmer said. The guide that results from this collaborative process helps her team make sure all the courses we create have a similar look and feel, and consistent behaviors,” she said.

It also ensures that the team understands what the stakeholders expect. “For instance, we might talk about what happens when a learner completes a drag-and-drop activity. Do learners place items on the drop targets and then hit the submit button to check their answers, or do they get immediate visual feedback on correct/incorrect placement without having to submit the activity? That may seem like a minor detail, but it’s subtle behavioral preferences that tend to emerge late in the process, bogging down progress. By talking through those things as we create the style guide together, hopefully, we can nail down some of those details early on,” she said.

Interactive style guides aid eLearning development

Conventional style guides, like the Associated Press Stylebook or The Chicago Manual of Style address primarily the appearance of text and usage and standards for written content. For an eLearning style guide, that’s barely the tip of the iceberg.

In a business context, a style guide is likely to define branding elements, including colors and logos, and set guidelines for a range of business and marketing documents, websites, and other customer-facing and internal content.

An eLearning style guide could go even further and include interactive elements. “Typically, branding style guides don't encompass design standards for interactive content that’s instructional in nature,” Rimmer said. An interactive eLearning style guide could cover eLearning design, visual design, and interaction design; like the linked example, it might include examples and exercises for designers as well.

“While you could describe to your clients in painful detail what you’d like to do to make their content into something more engaging and interactive for learning, you’re much better off showing them some examples—like those two different takes on a drag-and-drop for instance,” she said.

Incorporating these interactive examples into the (online) guide ensures that anyone creating a similar interactive activity will follow the same behavioral and appearance guidelines.

“With an interactive style guide, not only are you capturing all the standard things like the writing style, logo use, and colors, you’re also capturing how all of the interactive elements should work using examples that demonstrate those behaviors,” Rimmer said.

Create your own eLearning style guide

Rimmer created the sample style guide using Rise 360, an Articulate product. She’s presenting a session on “Why and How to Create an E-Learning Style Guide” at the Articulate User Conference, an event that is co-located with The eLearning Guild’s DevLearn 2019 Conference & Expo. The Articulate event is October 22; DevLearn is October 23–25 in Las Vegas.