Applying Signal-to-Noise ratio principle in learning

Is the content loud and clear to the audience in the course you have designed? Though your content is terrific, if the presentation is inappropriate then the course may seem to be lot like static and may not impress the audience. The concept of “Signal-to-noise” ratio, which is an engineering concept, is defined as a ratio of relevant to irrelevant information in a display. This concept refers to maximizing signal and minimizing noise in communication technology design.

In his blog, Garr Reynolds explores the concept and its application to slide design. In terms of learning, “signal” refers to the content that is most critical to the learners whereas “noise” refers to the extraneous bit of information or also sometimes called, superfluous information.  In order to develop an effective learning solution whether it is mobile learning, ILT, or any other type of learning, you need to put more emphasis on the “signal” instead of ”noise”.

Here are some tips based on this concept of “signal-to-noise” ratio that you can use to design effective learning solutions:

  1. Minimize the noise, which means to remove the unnecessary elements in any learning design. An important point to note over here is that every unnecessary data, graphic, navigation, and so on will take the attention away from the relevant elements or content. You must avoid using such unnecessary element or eliminate them altogether.
  2. Blend this approach with the KISS: No, I don’t really mean to put a kiss in your learning solution J but what I mean that you must seek to increase the signal-to-noise ratio in design using the simplistic or Keep it Simple, Stupid (KIISS) In other words, you must keep the design as simple as possible. As an Instructional Designer, you need to carefully select the instructional strategies so as to minimize the use of noise in your learning solution. Remember, excess bit of information is “noise”.
  3. Be clear and crisp in communicating information with minimal degradation: It is very important to note here that signal degradation occurs due to unclear writing, inappropriate graphics, or ambiguous icons and buttons, and so on. You must ensure to maximize signal through the use of clear and concise presentation of information. In addition, you can also minimize signal degradation through research and careful decision making.
  4. Use proper labeling in the learning: in order to maximize signal and minimize noise, you must use clear labeling. For example, you can use proper screen titles and headings, and specific and accurate hyperlink text. In most cases, you may not be remove a lot of your content from the learning solution. So, you need to find ways to organize and present information that would improve your signal-to-noise ratio.

Thus, the bottom line is that when a learner is looking for information in a course, everything that is not what they need at that very minute is noise.  And, when there is too much noise then it is find the signal. So, it is utmost essential to maximize the signal and minimize or eliminate the noise in your course. If you put a clear signal in your course, you are most likely to attract the learner’s attention.

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