“Friction” refers to anything that causes a learner to disengage with content. Low-quality audio — that can be a source of friction; an intimidating amount of text — that can create friction, too; bugs, functionality issues, technical challenges — friction; and so on.

Some sources of friction are unavoidable, but in general, just as health professionals follow “first, do no harm” as one of their guiding principles, learning and development practitioners should follow “first, avoid friction” as one of their central, guiding principles; that is, don’t do avoidable things that will cause learners to disengage with your content.

Common sources of friction, and strategies for addressing them, include:

Low-quality Audio

E.g., audio with background, mic or mouth noises; inconsistent volume; bad room acoustics; etc.

  • Hire an experienced voiceover artist: this approach is often less expensive than recording, editing and mixing voiceover in-house (once you factor in costs like staff salary and labor hours), and it results in significantly higher audio quality
  • Research ways to improve your recording environment and sound mixing; there are many internet resources available to help with this
  • Go "text-only" and skip having audio
Too Much Text or Text Density
  • Spread text out over more slides/pages/sections
    • E.g., we've spread this page's text out among various accordion sections so you don't see an intimidating/overwhelming amount of text when you first open this page
    • Move low-priority information (i.e., information that does not directly support achievement of learning goals) to separate, optional sections or side paths
  • Employ more graphics and empty space, a.k.a. "white space" and "negative space"
  • Use sub-headings to separate topics
  • Use (increased) line spacing (aka, "leading" and "line-height") to space out lines of text
  • Use (increased) paragraph spacing to space out paragraphs
Explore more on this topic in Working with Large Amounts of Text.
Bugs and Functionality Issues
  • Thoroughly review and test your products
    • Try to break them; don't just test ideal user behavior
  • Test using the variety of platforms and browsers that learners are likely to use
Technical Issues
  • Thoroughly test your technology before using it (e.g., web conferencing tools, apps, online software, etc.)
  • Borrow teammates, and/or other laptops, to serve as a demo audience, so you can get a sense of what participants will see and experience
  • Test the individual features you use, like polls and breakout rooms
Term Confusion
  • Clearly define the terms and jargon you use; ensure your content is understood by your entire audience and not just those who have prior exposure to the material
  • Use terms consistently; don't use one term in one spot and a synonym term in another spot, unless you've already established it as a synonym
Vague Instructions

Ensure your instructions are clear about what learners are supposed to do and what they'll encounter/experience when doing it.

Low-quality, Pixelated Graphics
  • Use high-resolution versions of the graphics you want to incorporate; avoid graphics that become pixelated when displayed at larger sizes
    • With some types of graphics — such as graphs and diagrams — you may be able to re-create your own higher-resolution version; just remember to cite the original source
Visual Design Inconsistencies

E.g., using different fonts or font sizes for body text; mixing graphics of different styles and types in close proximity; unaligned elements; different spacing between elements; unnecessary jitters, flickers or shifts within videos; etc.

  • Be consistent
    • It's the easiest way for non-professional designers to achieve a professional look
Detached From Reality

I.e., content that strains credulity by significantly deviating from common experience or common sense.

  • Address those deviations head-on; acknowledge what common experience or common sense might lead learners to believe, then explain why your information is more accurate
  • Avoid outlier examples (unless you're using them for an express purpose)