For nearly a decade, the Internet has been widely touted as the educational tool of the future wherein sophisticated educational web-sites would compete with, if not replace, the chalk and blackboard. Yet, web page design elements of color, text, illustrations and multimedia may not be effectively implemented to optimize online instructional environments that facilitate the learning process. Online materials should be presented in a manner so that they incorporate not only different learning modalities but are capable of reducing cognitive load, increasing retention and problem-solving transfer, facilitating the process of building internal and external connections among and between information while meeting educational objectives. As a result, meaningful student learning may be dramatically enhanced as a result of vigilantly employing state-of-the-art design techniques, which reduce cognitive load. After examination of the current research in this area, recommendations are made for more innovative use of color, text, illustrations and multimedia when designing and building web-sites for online instruction.
Overview of Web-Based Learning
Education is currently facing a paradigm shift in how it delivers instruction to learners. This shift is increasingly away from traditional classroom instruction to cyber-classroom learning environments in which learners and instructors are often geographically separated from one another. Helping to induce this paradigm shift is the rapid and continued development of the Internet and World Wide Web (WWW), or what is commonly referred to as "the web". This is providing educators with new and exciting opportunities for delivering effective instruction revolutionizing the way the learning process is being facilitated and enhanced. The web is ideally suited as a vehicle to deliver education since it incorporates constructivist principles, which engage learners in authentic activities for seeking and creating their own knowledge. This teaching strategy employs learner-directed problem solving strategies that can be used to sharpen critical thinking skills of students. Moreover, the web can add a dynamic richness to the curriculum that is virtually impossible to incorporate with conventional educational methods (Starr, 1997).
Truly, the web has the potential to become a tremendous learning resource on which instructional designers expect to capitalize on in order to deliver large amounts of information in a student-centered, non-linear manner while allowing for multiple alternative inputs from online classmates as well as from classroom and/or distant instructors. Furthermore, properly designed and constructed learning and instruction websites have the power to provide interactivity between teacher and learner, to afford the learner control of the information he or she processes, and to give and receive feedback about the knowledge being constructed. These enhanced learning opportunities apparently are all too often missing from traditional classroom settings. However, these learning characteristics can also be absent from poorly, carelessly designed and constructed instructional web-sites which fail to incorporate reliable design concepts (El-Tigi & Branch, 1997).
There are several key features of the web that are unique in delivering materials to facilitate the learning process. The first of these is the web's ability to use hypertext links, which provide swift navigation and the simplest form of learner interaction, enabling learner-centered control of information. This feature enables the web-site designer to create multiple links independent of a rigid hierarchical structure allowing the learner to seek immediate elaboration of hyper-linked words or images, to choose which topic to view, or to follow individualized, non-linear pathways through the learning materials.
The second, and perhaps the most important feature of using the web for instruction, is its increasing ability to incorporate multi-media learning. …