The Rapid Elearning Blog

Archive for November, 2007

Studies show that using images and text to represent your ideas is more effective than just using text.  The key is choosing the right images because those same studies show that images with no purpose can actually make learning harder.

To lessen the cognitive load and make your content more memorable, it’s important to use images that contribute to the learning experience rather than detract from it.

Here are three things to consider when using images in your elearning courses.

Use Images to Tell a Story

Images are effective because they can hook us emotionally or get us to see things in a new way.  Images can connect us to greater ideas and places in time. 

Look at the picture below.  Even though there’s no text, it tells a story.  What does this picture say to you?  What story does it tell? 

girl lamenting the bad elearning she has to endure  


The screens below demonstrate how you can easily convert bullet point text into something that is both visually interesting and memorable. 

jack loves his dog

As you can see, the second image is more interesting and whatever is missing by removing the text can be augmented with narration.  The second image is more effective because it is visually memorable, the information is concise, and you can never go wrong with a pug.

Petey is Jack's dog

These two images come from the "Meet Henry" presentation.  Spend some time studying how the designer of the slides used images and minimal text to convey key points of information. 

Tell the Learners Why the Image is Relevant

While images are good at sharing information, you do run the risk that what the learner sees is not what you are trying to convey.  Without guidance on your part, your learners could interpret the image differently than how you intend.

The image of the girl above is from the Great Depression.  You can imagine a detailed scenario to embellish the image and create a very moving story.  However, the image changes dramatically if I add the following information.

 Firesafety elearning demo slide

With appropriate guidance, the learner’s attention is focused on key areas and the purpose of the image is clear and contributes to the content.

Avoid Using Images Just for Decoration

A common problem with elearning courses is that we are tempted to put images on the screen to dress it up.  The image serves no real purpose other than decoration. 

Compare the images below.  The first is typical of what we see—bullet point text with a decorative image.

typical elearning slide 

The second is an example of how the image supports the content and helps the learner develop a visual model of the information.  If you notice, the text is almost identical.  I only made minor modifications by creating a more descriptive title and positioning the text close to its part on the image.

 example use of text and graphics in elearning course

Make your next elearning course more dynamic by using effective graphics.  Visualize your screens and use graphics that explain the content.  Avoid using graphics to make your screen pretty.

With some practice and intentional design of your graphics, you will create very effective elearning.  


*Demo content from Oregon State University and Shane Eubanks.


Free E-Learning Resources

Want to learn more? Check out these articles and free resources in the community.

Here’s a great job board for e-learning, instructional design, and training jobs

Participate in the weekly e-learning challenges to sharpen your skills

Get your free PowerPoint templates and free graphics & stock images.

Lots of cool e-learning examples to check out and find inspiration.

Getting Started? This e-learning 101 series and the free e-books will help.

Here’s a challenge many of us face.  We want to create engaging and interactive elearning courses.  But because of customer requests or limited resources, we have to cut corners and end up with visually boring elearning courses filled with nothing but bullet points.

The good news is that even if you are in a crunch, there is a lot that you can do to enhance the visual presentation and actually make a better learning experience.

Make Your Course Content Visually Memorable

Garr Reynolds of Presentation Zen has a good post comparing a recent presentation by Bill Gates with that of Steve Jobs.  In the post, he discusses what makes a good presentation and offers lot of insight that you can apply to your elearning courses.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - Compare Bill Gates to Steve Jobs

Reynolds argues that the Jobs presentation is more effective.  I agree, and think Jobs’ slides are better because they are:

  • visually interesting
  • less cluttered
  • formatted with smaller chunks of information

Considering what we discussed earlier about cognitive loads, you can already see how this approach is effective for elearning.  The learner is better able to understand and process the information, making it more memorable.

Compared to many other presentations, the Gates version is not bad.  We don’t want to be critical of the slides.  However, comparing the two presentations, it’s easy to see how a simplified screen with very specific points is more visually appealing and easier for the learner to digest.

Fine Tune Your Content

Remember, people can only retain so much information at one time.  So, it’s important to design your elearning courses (even simple ones) so that the learner can recall as much as possible.

Cliff Atkinson, the author of Beyond Bullet Points, has a good post on fine-tuning the content of your screens to create information that is more memorable.

For example, he compares the two images below.  The first is common to many of today’s screens.  By itself, the heading isn’t very clear and requires extra processing to figure out what it means and how it’s connected to the rest of the information.

Compare that to the second image which Cliff says, “…quickly signals what you’re talking about, intrigues people to listen to the words you’re saying and the visuals you’re showing, and frees them from the burden of excess information they don’t have the time to process…”

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - Beyond Bullet Points

For additional reading, Dennis Coxe has a good post on cognitive overload and even provides a link to Seth Godin’s, “Really Bad PowerPoint (and how to avoid it)” ebook.  While the focus of the ebook is on presentations, you’ll find that there are many parallels to information-based elearning courses.

E-Learning Courses Are Different Than Live Presentations

Personally, I prefer the Jobs approach.  I think that the screens are easier to digest and with good narration, the content is probably more memorable.  With that said, the Gates slides can also be effective.

The slides are not optimized for a live presentation.  There’s too much information and noise that distracts from the presentation.  However, in an elearning course there are things you can do to lessen the cognitive load.

While there are a lot of similarities between presentations and elearning courses, one key difference is that presentations are typically focused on live events, while elearning courses aren’t.  This means that the live audience doesn’t have the luxury of a rewind button and makes targeting the presentation content much more critical.

Elearning courses are asynchronous and the learners have the ability to stop and review critical pieces of information. They also have the advantage of retaking a course and getting additional exposure to the content, something that you can’t do in a live session.  In addition, you can create targeted questions and assessments in the elearning course to measure the learner’s understanding and provide remedial information and feedback.

Here’s a quick demo where I take the same narration and present it four different ways.  What you’ll notice is that to lessen the cognitive load you can:

  • progressively reveal information
  • condense the text on the screen
  • replace text with relevant images

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - 4 versions of same narration in different elearning approaches

Click here to see the demo (Flash version). Here’s an .MP4 recording of the demo.

Both the Jobs and Gates slides are primarily information-based and not very interactive.  While that’s the case, it doesn’t mean that the course can’t be effective.  The combination of nice visual design with text and narration that eases cognitive load makes your course much more memorable and effective.

In fact, if you embrace these ideas, your course can become more than an information dump.  Listen to what Cliff, Garr, and Seth have to say and you’ll really add some power to those points.


Free E-Learning Resources

Want to learn more? Check out these articles and free resources in the community.

Here’s a great job board for e-learning, instructional design, and training jobs

Participate in the weekly e-learning challenges to sharpen your skills

Get your free PowerPoint templates and free graphics & stock images.

Lots of cool e-learning examples to check out and find inspiration.

Getting Started? This e-learning 101 series and the free e-books will help.

People ask me all the time how they can develop their elearning design skills.  Many of you work in one- or two-person departments and have to figure out elearning design for yourselves.  Even if you work for a larger training group or department, you don’t always have access to seasoned experts to mentor or guide you.

So this post offers some practical ideas on how to develop your elearning skills for little or no cost, other than your time.

These tips are based on what a lot of people like to call Web 2.0 technologies.  Not everyone is up-to-speed on these terms so I assembled a simple module that explains them.  True to the spirit of this post, the information I am sharing is freely available to you courtesy of Common Craft.  I put the videos into a single module because I know that many of you don’t have access to them directly because of corporate firewalls.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - E-learning and Web 2.0 course

Click here to see E-Learning & Web 2.0

(As a side note, the Common Craft videos are another good example of the passive engagement I discussed in an earlier post.  The approach they use is light and entertaining, yet very informative.  Something like that could be applied to some of your own elearning courses).

Now that you’re up-to-speed on some of the Web 2.0 technologies, you can review the tips on how to use them to enhance your own personal development.

  1. Use an RSS reader.  Your personal development depends on getting new information and understanding what’s happening in the industry.  There are a lot of good resources available to you for free.  The challenge is actually seeing the information.

    Using RSS allows you to pull the sites that interest you into one location so that you can easily scan the latest news or blog posts.  The good news is that almost all sites allow you to subscribe via RSS feed.  In fact, if you look in the right column of this blog, you’ll see an RSS link. 

    To use RSS feeds, you have to have a way to manage them.  I use Netvibes as my home page and use it to manage my most frequently read feeds.  I also use Google Reader.  With it, I can scan a couple of hundred blogs each day.  Those are two good options.  However, there are many from which to choose.  It’s just a matter of what you want to do. 

    The key point is that using RSS feeds will save you time and keep you on top of the latest news…and possibly improve your trivial pursuit skills.

  2. Connect with experts in the industry.  Once you have your RSS feeds intact, you can monitor and track the latest news from industry experts.  Many of them have blogs where they share ideas and actively invite conversation.  Read the blogs and share your ideas. 

    In the past, the only access you had with this level of expertise was via newsletters or magazine articles.  Not today.  Now you can actively engage them and get their insights.  It’s like having one sitting in the cubicle next to you, kind of like an elearning Neopet

  3. Connect with your peers.  You can connect with your peers in real life or online.  Where I live there are a number of user groups and a local chapter of the ASTD.  It’s a good way to connect with others who do the same type of work.  The more specific the group’s purpose, the more likely you’ll be engaged and get to meet others.  To get the most value out of this, plan on being active.

    To connect virtually, find the blogs of others like you and dialogue with them.  One of the nice things is that many people have blogrolls where they list links of other relevant blogs. That’s a good way to meet your peers online. Most bloggers love to share information and help others. 

  4. Support some industry activity.  If you frequent sites like the Elearning Guild, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to help.  They’re always looking for people.  In fact, the other day I saw a call out for writers.  A good way to learn is to write something based on your experience.

    Here’s another way to develop your skills and bring real value to you and your organization.  Clive Shepherd started the 30 Minute Master’s wiki.  The goal is to help subject-matter experts in the design of rapid e-learning courses.  Anyone can help and use the content.

  5. Start a blog.  Blogging allows you to grow as you learn and then reflect on your learning.  If you have your own blog, you can read the reflections of others, write your own thoughts, and have the blogs link back to each other.  It also allows you to tap into the expertise that is freely available to you via the Internet.

    A few weeks ago, Tony Karrer had a good article on blogging.  That post speaks to what I wrote about above because he mentions up and coming bloggers.  So here you have Tony, a recognized leader in the industry, dialoguing with an upstart blogger.  

    Blogging can be a very powerful exercise and provides a lot of opportunity.  In addition, there are so many tools available that you can create a very rich media experience.  For example, the videos I used above could easily be added to your own blog via some code from the Common Craft site.

The elearning world is rapidly changing.  The technology is getting easier to use and each upgrade adds increased functionality.  In addition, the social media available via the Internet will soon be integrated into your elearning design.

Learning to use these tools will help you understand the technology.  More important, though, is that you’ll grow and continue to develop your own skills.  As your skills grow, you’ll build even better elearning courses.


Free E-Learning Resources

Want to learn more? Check out these articles and free resources in the community.

Here’s a great job board for e-learning, instructional design, and training jobs

Participate in the weekly e-learning challenges to sharpen your skills

Get your free PowerPoint templates and free graphics & stock images.

Lots of cool e-learning examples to check out and find inspiration.

Getting Started? This e-learning 101 series and the free e-books will help.