One of the golden rules of learning experience design is that relevant visuals promote learning. The idea is embodied in the well-known multimedia principle—deeper learning occurs when we present both words and relevant graphics rather than words alone (Clark & Mayer, 2016). This fortifies the idea that visuals are indeed important.
That’s why I’m often asked, “How do you visualize narration that the graphic or animation is emphasizing the narration and vice versa?” and “Do you take the narration script and highlight keywords and then visualize to those keywords?”
These are great questions, particularly because eLearning, videos, infographics, and often job aids are visual mediums. This is no accident. The visuals are a large part of how people understand something new and what makes it meaningful.’
Now, back to those questions. The short answer is you can go both ways, starting with the narration or starting with the visual concept. The most important thing is to make sure you’re using an instructional strategy that will lead to mastery of the instructional goal.
Look At Global Instructional Strategies
You can visualize the course at several levels using an iterative process. At the global level, when you have a good sense of what the learner needs to do in the real world, certain topics or concepts may jump out as requiring interactive or visual strategies.
For example, use a graphic to show the internals of a machine the learner will need to repair in the real world. Or show a screen of the financial software you’ll be teaching managers to use. These are the obvious visual strategies. When you are certain of a strategy, note your ideas in your content outline, learning objectives or prototype notes. It will come in handy later, when you’re frazzled.
Visualize While Scripting
At the storyboarding level, try to capture the mental images that accompany your thinking as you write your draft script. Note these in the storyboard. Many of these early conceptions will turn into essential course visuals. Many designers like to start with the narration or text to wrap their arms around the content first. On the other hand, some prefer to start with their visual ideas or a prototype, and then write the content around it. Usually, it’s a back and forth process. Bottom line: take the approach that gets you the most effective training in the end.
Even when we concentrate on the real world application of skills, adult training inherently relies on the presentation of underlying concepts and principles relevant to many skills. Visuals help make abstractions concrete and easier to understand. Go through your storyboard or prototype at a granular level and look for opportunities to visualize abstractions using imagery, diagrams, charts, graphs and whatever else will promote learning.
From The Trenches
Here’s an example of working at the granular level. While designing a course about protected health information, I needed to explain what types of information are protected under US law. The narration was already written and I was thinking of ways to liven up a dense subject. Rather than present all the different types of protected health information in a text list, I created a radial diagram with the word “PHI” in the center (Protected Health Information) and lines coming out from the center like rays of the sun. Each ray linked to a health information type, which was was represented by a labeled image. The images were synced to display in time with the audio track.
These simple types of visualizations are more engaging to learners and are more memorable than text alone. Sure, an interactive activity or discovery learning would have been more fascinating, but it would have been overkill for this eLearning situation. Even when your visual is simple, it can promote learning in most cases and it takes your learners out of the doldrums.
Clark, R & R. E. Mayer, (2016). E-learning and the science of instruction: Proven guidelines for consumers and designers of multimedia learning (4th ed.). John Wiley & Sons.
How do you conceive visuals for eLearning courses? Let us know your process.