Bullet lists make a sequence of important points easy to read. When those near-perfect little circles are vertically aligned, readers can quickly process the text. Yet too many bullet lists in an eLearning course or slide presentation can be repetitious and mind-numbing.
Learners and audiences need novelty to maintain and sustain attention. The trick for going beyond bullets is to think visually. By sprinkling in alternatives to bullets here and there, your minimal use of bullets will be more effective.
Here are six bullet alternatives you can create in any graphics program or in PowerPoint. If you’re interested in more visual design ideas, see my book, Visual Design Solutions.
Alternative 1: Use text boxes
A simple alternative to a list is to place each item into a a text box that is arranged in a suitable layout. With this approach, each point is more pronounced than in a list. It can also be accomplished easily with basic graphic tools and in PowerPoint. Below, what could have been a bullet list of eLearning design skills is placed in horizontally arranged text boxes with a 1 pixel border.
Alternative 2: Let icons do the talking
Using the same text boxes as above, this approach adds icons to the words. Notice the appealing effect of adding small and simple pictures to each box. For some learners, the image may work as a mnemonic device to help retain information. In case you’re wondering where to find icons, check my Icon Collections page in Resources for suggestions.
These icons were found at Iconfinder.
You can take this approach one step further by accentuating the graphic more than the words. In the social learning screen below, graphic prominence through size is appropriate because of the well-known branding of the platforms shown.
Alternative 3: Let People Speak Your List
When you use people cutouts to speak your points, no one will suspect this is a list. When you buy people cutouts, you get the same person in various poses. You can use these as instructional-agents or as characters in scenarios throughout the course. You can find cutout people at eLearning Art and the eLearning Brothers.
Alternative 4: Wrap the list around a picture
Another simple approach is to find an interesting silhouette at a stock photo site or even to draw a simple geometric shape. Then wrap the list around the silhouette or shape, gently following its contours.
Alternative 5: Draw a Diagram
Then there’s the diagram approach. Use a radial diagram when information is at the same level. Place the topic or category in a circle or ellipse in the center. Then place spokes around this shape in the form of arrows or pointers. Place what would have been a bullet list item at the end of each spoke.
For alternatives to the mind map approach, use a hierarchical chart when list items supersede each other. Also experiment with other graphic formats or with PowerPoint’s predefined diagrams. Just remember to use grouping principles so learners will know which items are related to each other.
Alternative 6: Create a Table
If you analyze your content carefully, you might find that several bullet lists can be associated into one category. If so, then the lists can often be combined into one table. The wondrous thing about a table format is that the values can be either words or numbers. In the computer literacy example below, different multimedia file formats (on the right) are organized into a table by media type (on the left) rather than using four separate bullet lists.
What do you use as alternatives to bullet lists? Comment below.
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