by AJ George
There is no denying that the most important thing about eLearning is solid content. But could you be inadvertently making your content harder to read and understand by using the wrong fonts? Is good font selection really important? Read on to discover the many surprising ways fonts can affect your content.
Some Fonts Read Better On-Screen
eCommerce Consultant Dr. Ralph F. Wilson did a study back in 2001 to determine if serif fonts (fonts with little lines on the tops and bottoms of characters such as Times New Roman) or sans serif fonts (those without lines, such as Arial) were more suited to being read on computer monitors. His study concluded that although Times New Roman is easily read in printed materials, the lower resolution of monitors (72 dpi vs 180 dpi or higher) makes it much more difficult to read in digital format. Arial 12 pt was pitted against Times New Roman 12pt with respondents finding the sans serif Arial font more readable at a rate of 2 to 1.
Wilson also tested the readability of Arial vs. Verdana on computer screens and found that in font sizes greater than 10 pt, Arial was more readable, whereas Verdana was more readable in font sizes 10 pt and smaller.
So should you stop using Times New Roman in your eLearning lessons? Not completely. For instance, you can still use Times New Roman for text content that is not expected to be skimmed over quickly or read in a hurry.
Some Fonts Increase Trust
A 2008 study by Sharath Sasidharan and Ganga Dhanesh for the Association of Information Systems found that typography can affect trust in eCommerce. The study found that to instill trust in online consumers, you should keep it simple: "To the extent possible, particularly for websites that need to engage in financial transactions or collect personal information from their users, the dominant typeface used to present text material should be a serif or sans serif font such as Times New Roman or Arial."
If you feel your eLearning content will be presented to a skeptical audience (or one you've never worked with before), dazzling them with fancy fonts may not be the way to go. I'm not saying that you shouldn't use fancy fonts from time to time to break up the monotony of a dry lesson, but consider using such non-standard fonts sparingly. Use the fancy fonts for headings or as accents, but not for the bulk of your text.
The Readability of Fonts Affects Participation
A study done at the University of Michigan in 2008 on typecase in instructions found that the ease in which a font in instructional material is read can have an impact on the perceived skill level needed to complete a task.
The study found that if directions are presented in a font that is deemed more difficult to read, "the task will be viewed as being difficult, taking a long time to complete and perhaps, not even worth trying."
Based upon the aforementioned study by Wilson, it is probably not a good idea to present eLearning material, especially to beginners, in a Times New Roman font, as it may make the information seem too difficult to process or overwhelming.
Different Fonts Convey Different Personas
If you are creating eLearning for business professionals, you might want to use a different font in your design than you would for eLearning geared toward high school students. But what font would you use if you wanted to convey a feeling of happiness? Formality? Cuddliness?
In a study (funded by Microsoft) by A. Dawn Shaikh, Barbara S. Chaparro and Doug Fox, the perceived personality traits of fonts were categorized. The table below shows the top three fonts for each personality objective.
Source: Img Src: http://www.surl.org/usabilitynews/81/PersonalityofFonts.asp
Click here for Part 2 of this series, Easy Font Resources.
About the author: AJ George is IconLogic's lead Technical Writer and author of the book "PowerPoint 2007: The Essentials" and the just-released "PowerPoint 2008 for the Macintosh: The Essentials." You can follow AJ on Twitter at http://twitter.com/andrayajgeorge.