Increase Readability in Moodle using Blank Space
Strategic use of blank (empty) space might seem like a small thing, but it’s actually a hugely important design consideration that has an immediate impact on the readability, accessibility, and overall aesthetic of your instructional materials. In this post, I’ll be focussing on Moodle course pages, but you can apply this concept to course documents, handouts, tests – pretty much anything that students will be required to look at and make sense of!
When I refer to “Readability,” I’m talking about various metrics used to decide how easy a piece of text is to read. There’s a few important metrics that factor in, including sentence length, complexity of vocabulary, total number of words, total number of syllables in each word, etc. I’m often criticized for using too many fancy academic words and very long sentences. I’ve had to unlearn some of these habits when writing for the general public. If you’re like me, you might find it helpful to run some of your writing through online Readability Checkers like this one.
There are ways to improve readability that go beyond word choice and sentence structure, focussing instead on overall design. This is what I would like to talk about, using our Moodle courses as an illustrative example. The strategic use of blank space within a Moodle course page helps the end user, in this case our students, quickly scan and find relevant information. You’ve likely experienced the frustration of trying to navigate a jam-packed webpage or extremely dense form with tiny writing. It’s not fun, and if you’re rushing, you’re likely going to miss something. Moodle does an overall poor job of formatting using blank space by default, but fortunately there’s a very simple trick that can help you make your Moodle shell far more readable and easier for students to effectively scan.
Poor Use of Blank Space
The image below is an example of a Moodle course page that has a relatively low level of readability. The various items within the shell are very “smooshed”. This is the default design in Moodle. I didn’t do anything special; I just created a file, a forum, and an assignment dropbox, adding descriptions for each.
Better Use of Blank Space
Here’s my big fancy secret for making Moodle courses more readable by increasing blank space:
Hold SHIFT then press ENTER
Holding down the shift button and then pressing enter will allow you to create blank spaces anywhere you want them: at the beginning of your content, in the middle, and at the end. Let’s look at some examples.
Here’s a section description with no special formatting and no blank space:
Here’s the same section description, but this time I held down the SHIFT key and hit ENTER once at the very start of the first sentence. Notice how there’s now a bit of blank space between the topic title and the first sentence:
When I use my SHIFT plus ENTER key trick throughout the Moodle page, I can strategically space all of the elements out, like this:
When I combine this strategy with other recommended practices, like using bullet points and headings, I think the overall effect is quite different from the “smooshed” version: