Branding and templates in online learning - any research?

Like many of you will no doubt have done as well, I find myself once again in a battle of wills with the "brand police".

I have a view that templated, brand consistent development can only lead to content that is hard to deifferentiate by the learner further down the line. I have had a case here where 2 similar courses by topic also looked visually the same - end result, user insisting they had done their Data Protection Act training where in fact, they had completed Anti Money Laundering!.

 

So, my question is this: Is there any formal research on the validity of an approach where the content adopts a common branding, possibly using a templated approach? And can we prove that by offering a variety in the delivery is an advantage and not a disadvantage as the Intranet Comms people would have us believe?

 

Many thanks!

 

Andy

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Andy,

A few of the case studies at www.towardsmaturity.org talk about branding. In most cases corporate branding is followed but not slavishly.

It is quite common to brand a sequence of courses or a set of topics to look and feel very similar; then users know where they are and what they are studying.

However at the same time older courses look and feel old fashioned and it is important to move on to more modern approaches using more media and some of the emerging ideas, obviously podcasts, social media etc.

Like all rules this one is for the adherence of fools and the guidance of wise people. Negotiate with your corporate branding department to give them what they want but experiment within their constraints.
I struggle a lot with this aspect of design myself. We have recently rebranded and created a new termplate for our e-learning courses, but as I design new ones I am starting to move away from it so they don't all look the same.

Courses that we add to exisiting programmes, such as induction or management development programmes will all still be in the same template.
Not only hard to differentiate, but also more tiring. I don't know about you, but when I go from one application to another I find it refreshing to come across a different colour scheme and style - it keeps you more alert!
I have experienced many instances of brand policing but in general they are interested only in what you are about to launch. Whilst they would prefer all the previous content to be brought up-to-date, they realise the cost/benefit is not balanced. This does have a big downside, the content is dated by the brand of the time. Therefore there is a case to say it shouldn't carry the brand. The ideal solution (if using a brand) would be to use a content design that picks up the current brand 'on the fly', so it's always up to date.
We have had good success using a 'signposting'; a sort of sub-brand that gives learning content a general look and feel and identifies it as learning content. This pacifies the brand dept as long as it's not a sub brand (that is not allowed). Additionally the signposting 'brand' usually has a longer life. Ultimately it's always such a changing landscape (brand/technology/content delivery style etc) that a 5yr old product often looks 5yrs old.

To answer the the last part of the question, my own opinion is that content has to look fresh and contemporary. If not users soon 'turn off'. Fresh might be within 90days! If we assume that any product needs a payback/impact in such a time frame then we might consider retiring the old content. I know we don't want to lose valuable content, but who is asking for it a year later? I haven't any references to research carried out.

Regards
Jonathan
Our approach is 'flexible compliance' (I just made that up). We have internally created elearning and externally created elearning, most of which is commissioned by individual business units some of which have their own branding. If the material has a groupwide audience we use, or supply the external developer with, certain guidelines governing colour palette, types of photography and heading styles. Within those the developers can create their own interface for the particular course or set of courses they're working on. It's reasonably successful - some break some of the rules, but have done so with consistency and good aesthetics so they've got away with it. In fact I don't think the brand police take much interest except when they are asked in advance. One quite prominent site on the intranet, while probably sticking to the letter of the brand guidelines, is particularly horrible, and I'm not aware of anyone from brand commenting. However there are stories of massive demands when a prospective design is presented to them in advance. so there's a liking for 'forgiveness is better than permission'.

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