The last several years have seen the mushrooming of text-message or SMS based content being published on messaging platforms like WhatsApp, Telegram, etc., for consumption as learning material. This became especially evident during the last year when the pandemic locked us all indoors and such platforms were the quickest, simplest, and most widely available medium to reach more and more people, globally. Training on anything and everything has been offered, from photography, to performing rituals, to removing snakebite venom, to learning the scriptures.
As the explosion happened, so did the variety of styles and language and various other aspects of quality of content. It often surprised me when the content did not seem to acknowledge the needs or preferences of the readers. Having been in the Content design and development space for almost 30 years, I have become quite sensitive to these preferences, though each of us can choose which ones are important and which may not be for them.
Please have a look at these draft Standards to consider when designing, developing, and delivering Text-Message Based Content (TMBC). I will be delighted if you can share your opinion on what can improve these standards, and the overall communication through TMBC. If it is a medium, lets use it not just well, but in the best way. Please add your comments to the discussion in this post.
- Each post should not be longer than 2-3 screen scrolls on a device. Long messages tend to be partially read, deferred for later, and get left unread.
- Balance the content posted each day (by the learner time required), so that learners can manage their time better. Don’t have content which requires the learner to spend say 1 hour on one day and 5 hours on another day. (also note next point).
- Sentences should usually be about from 20 to 30 words long. If your style is breezy, 15 words would be good. Sentences with 50 or more words should be avoided if possible. Throw in a shorter sentence now and then that refocuses, summarizes, surprises.
- Indicate the time expected to be taken by each post or activity before the learner gets into the content, for better time management and selection of a good time of day when the learner may choose to devote their time to it.
- Labeling is important. Title each post with meaningful labels, and maintain the clarity, consistency, and hierarchy of labeling.
- A small visual map can be included at the beginning of each day’s posts to indicate which part of a bigger knowledge chunk will be dealt with that day.
- Use short, simple words.
- Have a consistent presentation mode/pattern for each info type that is presented, e.g. (this is only an example, the model can be redesigned to suit desired objective and nature of subject)
– Concept – text
– Principle – spoken audio
– Structure – visual
– Process – video, morphing through phases
– Procedure – numbered list of steps, text, each beginning with verb-object, action, ending with the result
- Never post or share politically or legally controversial content like debates, opinions, unsubstantiated facts, or misleading statements.
- Never infringe on another’s copyright on intellectual property, and always acknowledge sources, provided you have permission where required.
- The voice of the text content can be first/second person, as that is expected in a chat medium.
- Write short, simple sentences, and this is even more important in TMBC as the medium by context expects less time focused attention.
- The message to be delivered should be simply contained in short bytes.
- Ensure all dates/times etc. are mapped to real time, and indicate time zones, as the TMBC may be consumed by learners globally. This is especially important when posts contain time sensitive information, e.g. dates, times, virtual meeting links which expire, etc.
- Avoid texting jargon and abbreviations like ‘u’, ‘hru’, ‘atm’, etc.
- If multiple language posts are to be broadcast, ensure each post is in only one language.
- Embed links to media or documents that are too big to see natively in posts, but as far as possible, embed content that does not require linking out to a browser or another app. The learner is likely to get ‘lost’ once they leave the learning chat.
- If you’re encouraging questions or sharing, provide a link to another chat where questions and sharing can be posted by learners. Maintain the content chat clean of any conversation.
Typical progression of content (information presented and built up for assimilation) could be as depicted in the sketch below, through the information types that are meaningful for the learner:
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