Take a Risk

'Everything is just a copy of a copy of a copy'. It's a post-modern mantra, but we're here to prove it wrong. Things can be different. Change is nothing to fear. So how can you create something original? In just a few easy steps you can transform your e-learning into something unique and something that's never been seen before.

Here's an early New Year's resolution for 2011: it's time to take a risk. And here's how to do it...

Change your perception

E-learning has often been designed to replicate a book – with a clear beginning, middle, end and a simple, linear path to guide you through this journey. But why would we want to replicate another medium? Books are great. Creating a copy in digital form isn't the answer (no offence, iPad). Modern learners are used to flipping between browser windows and confident exploring a web page. So take advantage of this and make your interface design as creative as possible. a series of screens set in a grid that can be selected in any order; a revolving cube with selectable elements that lead you to scenarios, topics and resources; pop-ups that are designed to look like YouTube clips. The point is; think bigger. Take what you know and invert it. Make it an exploration not a lecture. People will find what they need themselves and it will make the end result all the more worthwhile.

Pimp your templates

Nothing seems to match the post-modern mantra of 'everything is just a copy of a copy' more than a templated approach to e-learning. Designed to make life easier, does it also make it duller? With a little bit of tweaking it doesn't have to. The simplicity of templates shouldn't be an excuse to make every screen type look the same. Instead, think of them as a base to work from. Then you can add the toppings that will make each one distinctive. If you are writing a course with animation screens, don't follow the same set-up each time. These can easily be altered, so to an unsuspecting learner there is no way of knowing that this is yet another animation screen. Even the e-learning staple – text and graphic screens – can be designed to fool. Using different fonts, adding post-it notes, using full-screen graphics with the text within it, and displaying text as speech – all look distinctive without requiring complex coding. Don't get caught in the template trap.

Act small, think BIG

Being original doesn't have to be a struggle. Small changes you make can have a big impact in making your e-learning look different. Does your e-learning need back and next buttons? If you've come up with a design that isn't a standard progression of screens, then probably not. Get rid and spice it up. If you have a grid of screens that can be viewed in any order you could employ a zoom-in and zoom-out approach, whereby learners can view all available pages at once and then select the one they require. Already you've removed a tacit signifier that this is e-learning. Add audio to the beginning of screens instead of initial text to set the scene. Change the position of your icons so that they appear next to the last action the user takes each time. These relatively small changes will move your e-learning away from its traditional home and keep it fresh.

The combination of your creative interface design, distinctive templates and small changes will ensure that your e-learning stands out. We know that you have to keep re-inventing. The changes don't have to be massive, just noticeable. Even if you come up with a great idea, keep pushing it to make it better.