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Use of Icons in E-learning Courses

Written By Renuka Tikekar

Use of Icons in E-learning Courses

We all have seen symbols or icons used in road signs. These symbols are self-explanatory and so widely-used that most of us understand what they mean even with the most cursory glance. They could indicate an instruction or a cautioning message such as ‘Drive Slowly’, or ‘Railway track ahead’ and so on. Have you ever considered why these icons are used to convey meaning instead of using just text?

An old adage says, “A picture is worth a thousand words“. According to Connie Malamed in her book Visual Language For Designers: Principles For Creating Graphics That People Understand, professor Yvonne Rogers for user interface design has classified icons can be classified into four types. Let us look at them.

Resemblance icons Directly communicate the function Recycle Bin
Exemplar icons Communicate meaning but not as directly as resemblance icons Traffic symbols
Symbolic icons Communicate concepts. Mostly used to show analogies. Locking doors
Arbitrary Icons Communicate meaning by use of specific conventions Radioactive hazard symbol

Based on the classification of icons, can we figure out the criterion for their selection or design? Sure we can. Here are a few things that we need to keep in mind while designing icons.

  • Easy identification: You use icons when you want something to be easily recognized. By using appropriate colors, shape or design, you help individuals relate the image to a subject quickly, thereby speeding up information processing. This can be of great advantage to learners in the context of eLearning.
  • Focus on purpose: Icons should be designed in such a way that they communicate intended meaning quickly and accurately. They should not be like a jigsaw puzzle aimed at taxing the mental faculties of the reader. Icons which are not easy to understand at first glance can be avoided, especially in the eLearning context as our objective is to make learning easy.
  • Easy to Remember: Icons plays a very important role. Many icons like traffic symbols, precautions etc. must be designed in such a way that they are easy to remember. The visual should be self-explanatory which means that the visual should be closely related to the idea which needs to be communicated. A good example is the DANGER sign where a skull which an ‘X’ mark across which aptly indicates danger.

In conclusion, I would like to state that an icon is supposed to facilitate the learning process and not become a taxing factor that discourages the learner. While tickling the intellectual faculties of the learner, it should not intimidate him. Do share your personal views and experiences with respect to the usage of icons, especially in the context of designing an eLearning program.

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