Getting Away From Bulleted Lists – Part 1

Getting Away From Bulleted Lists – Part 1

Visually presenting facts in online courses

What do you do when you have an eLearning course that contains a bunch of facts: numbers, trends, statistics, rates, and so on? How do you make your graphs, maps, charts, and tables visually engaging? More importantly, how do you help your learners remember some of this information?

At CommLab, we do a lot of courses that are heavily fact based. We recently did one on maternity. Among others, it included facts about birth and mortality rates of mothers and babies, worldwide birthing trends, and some historical data.

The client did provide us with some graphs and a map. But how do you make the information related to the graph “stick” in learners’ minds? From our own experience as learners, we know that a bulleted list of facts on the screen will not become a bulleted list of facts in our brains; we have to make a special effort to remember these facts. When we’re done with the course, we find that the audio and text have just left a few traces of information in our minds. Not only are bulleted lists boring, they do very little to help learners remember information.

We’ve all seen infographics online and been amazed by how they make facts come alive. So our instructional designers decided to use animated infographics to get away from the bulleted lists. These infographics had the following elements:

  • Graphs
  • Color-coded maps to designate developed and developing countries
  • Timelines
  • Icons to represent concepts: all major concepts would be represented using icons. The visual style we decided on was silhouette. We also defined the colors for these icons. These were: pink, shades of gray, white, and black.

Some examples of icons we used:

Getting Away From Bulleted Lists - Part 1

These icons appear in synch with audio over the graphs, maps, or timelines and give learners a handle to remember some of the facts. See examples below.


I. Graph with icons

Graph with icons

II. Bullet points replaced with icons

Bullet points replaced with icons

III. Timeline with icons

Timeline with icons

Tell us how you’ve been getting away from bullet points.

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  • Anonymus

    I agree with all this. Words associated with visual indicators leaves a mark on learner’s mind. However, while bringing this into practice Instructional designers should make sure that they are considering the cognitive load theory. too many words or too many pictures may create a disaster and may have a negative impact on learners.

  • Anonymus

    The best way is to synchronize the audio and visuals/text in a sequence for the learner to register. Also, do not have anyting on the frame except for the main idea. We must attempt to reduce the extraneous load to achieve a happy learner.

  • Akshay Kumar

    Sometimes, number is not important but the trends and vice-versa. So, it is purpose and type of facts, which decides the strategy of presentation (are comparatively more meaningful than other) in a particular context.

  • It’s hard to think of a really good reason to expect a learner to literally memorize a large volume of numbers, trends, statistics, etc.

    You are probably testing them, and expecting something like an 80% score. But ask yourself, if they miss 20%, and you are satisified with that, aren’t you really saying that the 20% that they missed wasn’t important? And if so, why did you spend any time and resources on it in the first place? Or, which 20% is not important? If your answer is, “any 20%”, then you are admitting that none of your training was important.

    The proposed answer? Decide what is actually important. Decide which points, if any, must be memorized. The test score requirement, then is 100%.

    Then decide which points you believe that they should be able to locate, rather than memorize. You guessed it; the test score expectation for those points is 100%.

    What do you think?

  • Jason Sieber

    If there is time to do this, sometimes the best way to make a class remember specific graphs is to have the students write a paragraph interpreting the graph in their own words, and then have them recreate the graph their own way. It adds creativity to the class, helps students learn information better, and helps them take some important notes without knowing it.

  • Jason, your tip on helping learners remember data presented through graphs is really great. It’s ideal for instructor-led classes. I am wondering if there are strategies that you have used to help learners remember key points in elearning courses too and if you can share them.