Graphics – Tips from an Instructional Designer

ELearning is a process where the teacher is not present and the learners themselves take up the course and complete it. Instructional Design is a process of facilitating online learning, and making knowledge transfer occur in such a way that the learners experience NO (or minimum) cognitive load. The role of an instructional designer is to make the course interesting, attractive and also keep the learners focused till the end of the course. In this process, Instructional Designers follow many learning principles and methodologies, through which the content can be presented and taught in an effective manner.

Every eLearning course has to be designed to help the learners enhance their learning experience. In order to facilitate it, an instructional designer must work on the content, audio, graphics and GUI (Graphical User Interface) of the course. Many of us think that content, and the audio that explains the content, are the two most important elements for effective learning. But in reality, graphics are very crucial in helping the learner and they are in fact more powerful when combined with text or audio.

According to the multimedia principle, word and graphics need to be used in a balanced manner.

Graphics used in a course play a very vital role in helping us to make the course learner friendly, and to successfully cater to the learning requirements. As an instructional designer, I find the following points very helpful while designing an eLearning course:

Clean & Clear GUI:

The GUI exhibits all the buttons used to navigate through the course and carries the entire course in itself. Make sure the GUI of the course is clear and easy to understand.

  • Every button must be self-explanatory. Avoid unwanted features like ‘Module Progress Bar’ – which is really not as important as the ‘Slide Progress Bar’.
  • Use ‘Menu’ and ‘Audio Script’ as drop down menus, instead of showing them static all through the course – so as to create more space for the on-screen content.
  • Use a theme in the GUI ribbon, and thus connect the learner to the topic being taught.
  • The ribbon must only be of the required width, and it must NOT have colors that grab the learner’s attention from the on-screen text.
  • Avoid patterns or designs in the background, to avoid strain while reading the content, which can have an adverse effect on learning.

Type of Graphics:

Graphics make learning easy by reducing the cognitive load on the learner (our main goal). A major part of the general audience is made up of visual learners, and they can be stimulated with graphics. But NOT all graphics help in learning. I personally follow a few rules while selecting and presenting graphics in my courses:

  • Humans store information in the form of mental models, and research states that we can only store five to seven items in a model before it breaks down. So, do not include more than 7 items in a graphic.
  • As IDs we have to learn/ analyze the content before we teach it. While analyzing, we form mental models which could be used as graphics, thus teaching the same way as we have learnt.
  • Use job related graphics as they help the learners to relate to their jobs and thus promote easy analysis of content.
  • Simple graphics like line diagrams help the learner more than the 2D or 3D graphics.
  • Using illustrations, we can effectively explain the internal parts of any machinery or the anatomy of the human body, which is NOT easy using real photographs.
  • Show an overview of the entire process, and then go deep into the details of each step, thus giving the complete picture to the learner.
  • Make sure not to use any decorative graphics; every graphic used in the course must be relevant and should enhance learning.
  • Reinforce learning by creating an info-graphic with the key points, as learner take – away or job aids.
  • Use consistent image style throughout the course.
  • You can always test the graphics used in a course by asking the audience what they have learnt through the graphics.

Placement of Graphics:

Graphics must be placed such that they gain the attention of the learner. In general, the human eyes move ‘left to right’ and ‘top to bottom’ in a ‘Z’ format. Follow these tips to help you make your courses more effective:

  • NEVER place the graphics in bottom right corner, as it is the most unnoticed place on the screen.
  • Contiguity principle says, “Placing text near graphics improves learning”. So the graphic, and the text explaining it, must be placed close to each other as it helps the learner in easy analysis of the content.
  • If a graphic conveys the complete message easily, then it’s always best to place it in the middle of the screen, and avoid using too much onscreen text.

Graphics are very helpful for learners as they help them understand easily and effectively. But it is not advisable to use too many graphics in a screen, which only confuses the learners instead of teaching them.

I hope that all these tips on graphics will help you in improving your courses and making them more effective.

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Written By

Manisha Reddy has been working with CommLab India as an Instructional Designer since 3 years. She works with fortune 500 clients, starting from analyzing their eLearning project requirements, preparing storyboards, working with the development team, implementing their feedback for delivering quality eLearning courses on-time.

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