Online courses are displayed to the learner through web browsers, so today’s learners inherit their expectations about online learning materials from their experience interacting with the Web at large. One debate in the web design world has been whether asking users to scroll “below the fold” to see content causes them to abandon the page. The question, then, is: to scroll or not to scroll?
The research suggests that web page viewers will scroll down a page (see resource links below) and that restricting design to one screen of information is a mistake. In practice, users prefer fewer, longer pages to lots of very short pages.
In the old days of the Web, pages were text-heavy and the limited bandwidth available to users prohibited most images, videos, and interactive tidbits. At the Web’s birth, it was easy to draw the comparison between the page of a book and a “page” on the Web.
Far better are pages that employ a variety of learning techniques… and that take advantage of the vertical and horizontal dimensions of a web page.
Scrolling was a concern because having to do it often meant there was too much text on a web page—sometimes more than you would find in an entire book chapter. In addition, the basic formatting of HTML was almost always less sophisticated than the formatting found in paper texts, so pages that extended beyond the fold often meant eyestrain and information overload for the reader.
No wonder our training or education partners occasionally express concern about asking learners to scroll!
But the Pew Internet & American Life Project “Home Broadband Adoption 2009” offers some promising news about the Internet—the majority of adult Americans have broadband in their home, and traditionally slow adopting groups are seeing marked increases in broadband adoption. As increased bandwidth supports more media-rich, engaging, and interactive pages, the similarities between the Web and the book are fading in all aspects except terminology.
Considering the alternatives
One alternative to presentations that require scrolling is to present information in a slide-show format, and there are a number of commercial programs available that enable this—Articulate Presenter, Camtasia, and Adobe Captivate all can convert PowerPoint slides into Flash presentations.
While there’s a place for such slide shows in online learning, MindEdge has found that learners become quickly bored with them. The pictures change and the audio keeps up, but the novelty of this type of video can wear off. Overall, this way of presenting information seems repetitive to the learner because, from the learner’s perspective, there is no movement through the page.
Far better are pages that employ a variety of learning techniques (text, video, cartoons, interactives, Flash animation and exercises, slide shows, self-assessment, short answer exercises, etc.) and that take advantage of the vertical and horizontal dimensions of a web page.
For example, using a page’s vertical dimension lets you present information, provide an example, and test comprehension in an uninterrupted manner. As you can see in the screenshot (click to see a larger view), this presents the learner with immediate variety—a more engaging approach.
The popularity of iPhones, Blackberries, and netbooks means that scrolling is here to stay. So there’s no need to overly restrict the design canvas when developing online learning—scroll on!
“The myth of the page fold: evidence from user testing,” Joe Leech, cxpartners
ClickTale Scrolling Research Report V2.0 – Part 1: Visibility and Scroll Reach
“Blasting the Myth of the Fold,” Milissa Tarquini, Boxes and Arrows
“As the Page Scrolls,” Jared Spool, About.com
“Home Broadband Adoption, ” John B. Horrigan, Associate Director, Pew Internet & American Life Project (June 17, 2009)