Tips on the Effective Use of Graphics for Learning

effective use of eLearning GraphicsGraphics, whether photos, icons, illustrations or cartoons, are readily available and pretty simple to create with today’s available technology and the Internet. However, some people take a free-for-all approach and use too many graphics in the wrong way. Or worse yet, fail to incorporate any graphics. The following tips will help you avoid the many graphic rules commonly broken by eLearning course designers.

Steer clear of making a “wall of words”

There’s nothing more taxing than being faced with a screen full of nothing but text. Frank Nguyen, an eLearning expert that has helped many Fortune 500 companies, calls this no-no “a wall of words.” Using text-heavy presentations and eLearning information will cause you to lose your students quickly. Balance text, graphics and white space so it’s pleasing to the eye and easy to visualize the concepts in a way that ensures effective learning.

Take advantage of the “multimedia effect” when considering the use of graphics and text. Studies have shown that student perform better – as much as 121% – when instructional design makes use of paired graphics and text rather than text alone. Just like the wall of words, even if your presentation isn’t text-heavy, you still need to balance things out and find graphics that are relevant and act as aids in the learning process.

When using graphics and text together, it’s important to avoid separating the text to far apart from the graphics it describes. Too much space placed between graphics and text forces students to have to figure out that they even go together. This takes away from the learning process and adds more mental work for the students. Text that is used to describe images or graphics should be placed next to one another. This makes it easy for students to visualize the connection and remember what they learned.

Choose the right graphics to complement the content

Never throw in graphics or stock photos to your presentations or learning environment just to fill up space. When it comes to instructional design, this leads to what is called cognitive load. The addition of unnecessary graphics distracts students causing them to lose focus from what they should be learning. You want graphics to help students remember, not overload their brains to the point it’s hard for them to process everything. While it is a good idea to balance out your text, graphics and white space so that the presentation appeals to students viewing it, it’s important to only use graphics that are relevant to the topic at hand.

Studies have shown that low-fidelity graphics are more effective than high-fidelity graphics when used in eLearning. Low-fidelity graphics, such as line drawings, illustrations and icons, typically take less time for students to process the information being presented. However, don’t totally rule out high-fidelity graphics, such as photos and more realistic images. These may be warranted depending on how the images are to be used in the learning process. In some cases, photos and realistic images are better able to illustrate what low-fidelity graphics can’t. In any case, it’s important to balance the use of both and carefully select which is most appropriate at any given time.

Before you turn your eLearning class loose for students to see, be sure that your presentation has a balanced amount of text and graphics. However, don’t just add images because you think they are nifty or interesting; only use those that are relevant to the subject being taught. And please, at all costs, avoid the horrific wall of words.