Selecting Fonts for Your eLearning Project

Developing good eLearning is more than just including all the subject matter material that the learner needs to be taught. It requires pedagogy and graphical design. My weakest point is graphical design. And since the best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else, here I am. I am going to be writing a series of Blogs that discuss graphical design for eLearning. And this is the first one. I will dedicate it to selecting the font or fonts for the eLearning project.

Selecting a font might take a second (use the default) or a couple of days (doing research and trying them out). I tended to use the default because the more I played with the fonts, the worst my module looked. That was until I learned that some design principles are already developed and are not that complex. Here are a couple of principles (tips) that can help you make a great selection in 30 minutes or less.

Who is your audience, and what is the topic of your eLearning?

Depending on your audience, you might directly discard a large number of options. Some fonts are very ornamental, and others are playful. Would any of those work for your audience? It is essential to dress for the occasion. Unless fashion is your thing, you never want to be over or underdressed. You want to shine but in a good way.

Will you require special characters? Which languages will you be using? You need to make sure that any special characters or symbols you might need are included in the font you chose.

What is the age range of your audience? A very young audience will require a font with simple letterforms that the eyes of a beginning reader can easily make out. This also applies to the elderly. But you might want to use a fun font for children who are already good at reading. Your font choice mustn’t impede your audience from easily reading the material. Then you have millennials; they tend to expect a font that looks clean and modern. Maybe look into other material that has been developed for the same audience and compare the fonts used there.

Legibility

99.9% of the time, you will want a clear and legible font instead of an unreadable one. If the learner has to spend additional time trying to figure out what it says because the font is confusing, they will be distracted and put less attention to the content, and you do not want that. You should avoid using a fancy font in large bodies of text (and in eLearning, there should be very few, if any, large bodies of text). If you still want to use fancy fonts, keep them only for headlines.

Some fonts work in one size and weight only, while others are more flexible. Make sure that the font you select works in the size and weight that your project will require. Remember that your project might be viewed on a computer monitor, but it may also be on a phone. Check how the font looks on both screens. And do not waste making the font dependent on the screen size. That is much more work than it is worth. Just select one that works in both sizes.

Cursive, Serif, or San Serif

Cursive appeared because people could write faster in cursive than in print. But cursive was very difficult to manage using the printing press, typewriters, and early printers. And cursive is more often than not more challenging to read (decipher) than print. Unless there is a fundamental reason, do not use a cursive font.

A serif is a minor stroke attached at the end of the larger strokes in a letter, digit, or symbol. Some argue that serifs help guide the eyes across the page, but that has not been proven. Others argue that the monotone appearance of sans serif fonts tends to tire the eyes when reading lengthy text, but that has not been proven either. However, most designers agree that a serif font creates more contrast and is more inviting to read. The general rule is that a serif font is better for large blocks of text that are meant for continuous reading, and a sans serif font is better for small blocks. Nonetheless, sans serif tends to be the best choice for tiny text presented on a screen.

Branding

If the company or school that will use the eLearning module already has a font style, using that one is the best choice. Your module should embody the spirit and character of the institutional brand as much as possible. However, most institutions do not have a characteristic font style, but they tend to have distinct colors. And you must use them. But that is going to be part of a separate entry.

Font Family

A font can stand by itself but may be part of a larger family of fonts. Each member of the family has a common look, but each has a different style or weight. Here, I am referring to characteristics like bold, italic, condensed, thin, light, medium, regular, heavy, etc. Selecting a font that is part of a font family gives you more versatility. Most of the time, you will use the same font but apply different characteristics. However, on some occasions, you might want to use more than one font.

Limit the Number of Fonts

As a general rule that you should try never to break, use two to three fonts at the most. Generally, one font for headers and the other for the body. But you could also use two different fonts depending on the heading level. Using too many fonts tends to be a distraction that detracts from the content, and it is also challenging to manage from an aesthetics point of view.

Selecting The Fonts

To select the fonts, you need first to identify where you will use each of the fonts. The most common differentiation is between headers and the body. You can have one font for all the headings and one for the body. However, you might want to have two different types of bodies. One that is for the normal body in your module, and the other is for callout boxes or similar exceptions. In that case, you might decide not to use a specific font for the headings or to have three fonts. But what I have found to be the most common is only to use two fonts. And in fact, there are quite a few tools out there that can help you select a pair of fonts that work well together. I suggest you try some of them, but my favorite is fontjoy.

fontjoy(https://fontjoy.com/)
fontpair (https://www.fontpair.co/all)
FontPlayground (https://play.typedetail.com/)
Pair and Compare (https://www.pairandcompare.net/)
Better Font Finder (https://jmattthew.github.io/better-font-finder/better-font-finder.html)

Maintain a Standard

The last thing to keep in mind is to define and maintain a standard. Do not change fonts from one slide to the next just to show that you know there are other fonts. Fonts should attract the learner’s attention but keep it in the content and not in peripheral issues. The best eLearning module is the one that is either intuitive or that it has an effortless learning curve. The learner should not encounter surprises that are not related to the course.

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How to select the appropriate font or set of fonts for your eLearning project. Graphical design inside eLearning.
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