Online Learning Pedagogy

I recently took a CLE (continuing legal education) class to fulfill my state bar requirements.  I decided on a class that sounded like it could help me with the course I teach online (Foundations Capstone).  The CLE was titled "Tools to Make Your Writing Clearer and More Persuasive".  

Ironically, this class taught me how to be a better online instructor, and I would like to share a brief overview of it with you.


I.  Purpose of the class: the way people "read" has changed therefore, we must structure our writing style to adapt to these changes.

II.  Reason for their claim - studies have shown:

  1. Technology has dramatically changed our reading environment.
  2. The new reading environment is "rewiring" our brains and changing the way we read.
  3. Our eyes work harder to read a screen then paper therefore, our eyes make "adjustments" to this fatiguing environment.
  4. The best tools for adapting to the "rewired" reader come from research on web usability.
  • Web Usability - study of how to make web sites easy to read.

III.  Specific facts from the research:

  1. Screen readers do not read, but they skim in a "F-shaped" pattern.  Here is a picture to illustrate this point.
  2. Screen readers do not read in the order we expect them to read.  Their eyes jump around and do not read across each line (linear) as they do for paper reading.
  3. Screen readers are impatient and want information quickly.
  4. Screen readers do not want to think to get information.  It is not that readers are unintelligent, but they are busy and impatient.

IV.  Key to adapting our presentation of information: Usability tools (Google and Amazon have perfected their sites from these studies)

  1. Enable skimming by doing the following: Headings that summarize, bullet points, numbered lists, outlines
    • *Readers mainly read the first sentence of a paragraph
  2. Omit needless words - when people add less words, readers actually read more (Twitter an example of perfecting this)
  3. Make it simple - example of Google home page = less than 25 words on the page
  4. Use WHITE space - blank part of a page
  5. Put the MOST important content in the top left of the page because of the "F-shaped" pattern of web reading


Hopefully, I have put into practice what I have learned from this class into this discussion post.  This has changed the way I want to "present" information to my students knowing how they are likely to read the information that I have given them.

I hope this has helped any of you.

source: "10 Tools to Making Your Writing Clearer & More Persuasive", Texas Bar CLE webcast, Kevin Dubose and Robert Dubose

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  • Hilary,

    Perhaps this is also a good way to support the need for paper copies of The Craft of Research to encourage more thorough reading and incorporation of the material.



  • Hilary, I literally just mentioned this presentation the other day when I was doing Cert for the first time with Tracy Willburn. I got on today, and BAM. There it is. It's like it's meant to be. And I agree with Trish. You are muey loved!

    • Hi Kimberly,

      Hahahaha...I am so glad this was able to help you.  I continue to use this and look for the most recent CLE that this was based from to see if there have been any updates.

  • Hilary, Thanks for sharing this. I think it is important in this busy world to try to be as clear and concise as possible in our communication.

    • I totally agree!  Thanks for the comment.

  • I LOVE Hillary! Thank you for sharing all that you discover. I attended your presentation on this at the OTL Conference a few years ago, but I just hunted around for this post today because the content is still very relevant. =)

    • Hey Trish!

      I am so sorry I missed this message months ago!  I will never forget that because that is the first time we met, and it was so FUN because you are hilarious!  Thank you for your kind compliments, and I hope to spend more time with you in the future.

  • Thanks for sharing. This was very enlightening for me. I wonder if there was research about using colors, pictures, various font sizes and styles, etc. That it what I've been working on improving this semester. I love the part about using fewer words and bullets. Great, great information for all of us to consider.

    • Austin,

      That is a great question about colors, pictures, font sizes, etc.  So I went back to my packet to see if there was something more specific.  I did find a couple of websites that it references which I have posted below.

      I did not read everything, but one of the websites did say that small text is better if you want them to read your information.  Big texts promote the reader to scan whereas small text makes them focus more on the words.  I thought that was interesting as I have been doing it all wrong!:)

      • Small text if you want them to read it? That is an interesting idea. I would have assumed, like you, that bigger/fancier text would increase the chance that students would review the information, but according to this, my approach might actually promote scanning/skimming instead. Thanks for sharing those sites. I will have to reconsider my approach to instructor notes and other communications. 

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