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Surprising Study Result on Font Selection and the Effect on Learning

A psychologist at Princeton University conducted a study to determine if fonts that are more difficult to read cause people to think hard about what they read and remember it better. The results are surprising. When facts were presented in different fonts (easier to read vs harder to read), the people who read the more difficult font had greater short-term retention than people who read the easier font.
When we think about Web usability, we are always told to use the most readable fonts, such as Verdana and Georgia, which were specifically designed for the Web. In addition, some studies indicate a preference for san serif fonts such as Verdana, Helvetica, and Arial when reading online. In general, people scan when they read online. It makes sense that you would select a font that is easy to read if you want to facilitate scanning. But what if you want readers to slow down and spend more time reading your text? That might be the case for online learning compared to other online tasks such as making a purchase.
When selecting a font for E-Learning there are a few things to consider. First is readability. Another factor is graphic design and how well your font aligns with your message. For example, you would probably select a san serif font when writing about an analytical subject. On the other hand, a serif font might be a more appropriate selection for a subject dealing with a soft topic, such as emotions. The article in The Economist (study by the Princeton psychologist) raises a good question. Should you select a font that is a little bit more difficult to read and therefore requires learners to spend more time on your content? Certainly decorative fonts are out of the question, but perhaps we should look at fonts outside the short list of Web favorites. We can also think of text/background combinations other than high contrast black text on a white background.
If visual accessibility is your primary consideration, you need to make font selections that are easy to read and make sure users have the option to control how fonts display on their computers.
The article in The Economist is important because it makes us think about the importance of font selection and its impact on learning. When we design learning materials there are a lot of factors to consider. It is easy to overlook font selection, but it’s important.
Here’s the article in The Economist:

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