I have a mantra when it comes to using images in my E-Learning courses. It is a pretty simple mantra, and I have people who disagree with me on it, but it is my mantra nonetheless.
Be purposeful when using images in e-learning.
Chapter four about media in e-Learning and the Science of Instruction really resonated with me and my mantra has stuck with me since. It discusses choosing images for your e-learning courses and how to present them (I highly recommend reading it).
What does it mean to be purposeful with images?
In the simplest terms, it means to not just be decorative with your images. Images should aid in learning somehow, whether it is by having a representational graphic or even having a narrative character. When you are picking out an image or graphic “just to fill the space,” that’s when you know you’re not doing it right.
The first thing I recommend is to constantly and actively ask yourself, “will this image help the learner?” If the answer is no, then don’t use it. Being purposeful with your images means that the image should always help the learning process.
A contractor built a course on developmental disabilities. The target audience for this course were front line staff. In the course there was a slide about fetal alcohol syndrome with both the causes and the symptoms. The contractor decided that an image of an expectant mother with the ground littered with beer bottles around her would be a good fit for the slide.
Was this the best decision to make? Probably not. It is easy to say that the image of the drunken mother connected with the content as that is what causes fetal alcohol syndrome. However, if the contractor would have asked himself “does this help the learner?” I bet he would have answered “no.” We replaced the image with a public domain graphic that pointed out the characteristics of a child with fetal alcohol syndrome. Does this one help the learner? Absolutely!
Tip: When asking yourself “how does this help the learner?” take it a step further and ask yourself “how?”
Types of Purposeful Images
When to use: Use these when you’re attempting to label or “visualize” something.
Remember all the diagrams in your science books and how much they helped? This is the diagram we ended up using from the example above:
As you can see, diagrams are both simple and complex. Sometimes finding an image and simply adding some lines and text is all you need to do.
Tip: Don’t include the diagram text “under” the diagram. Instead, use it within the image like the example above. In many text books you will see a diagram with Fig.1. underneath of it and a description – take that description and stick it in the image itself.
When to use: Use flow charts when explaining processes, especially nonlinear ones.
A flow chart is a type of diagram and are very simple to create. If the software you are using to create the course doesn’t have an easy way to create flowcharts already, you can use the SmartArt or even just the regular shapes in PowerPoint to create your flowchart.
Here’s an example of a block of text that could easily be made into a flowchart:
Does your lamp not work? Let’s troubleshoot it! First, check to see if the lamp is plugged in. If it isn’t plugged in, then go ahead and plug it into the wall. Once it is plugged in, check to see if the lamp works. If it either was plugged in, or you have plugged it in and it now works, then check to see if the bulb is burnt out. If the bulb is burnt out, then replace the bulb. If the bulb isn’t burnt out or if replacing the bulb still doesn’t fix the lamp, then send in the lamp for repair.
Now let’s take a look at the flowchart:
Which one would you say is more effective in getting the point across?
Tip: To save a flowchart from PowerPoint make sure you have selected the all of the shapes, then right-click and select “Save as Picture.” Example
When to use: lists, within flow charts, anywhere that an image can use as a visual memory “trigger”
When I was in high school, we memorized poetry and recited it to the teacher. To help me remember, I would write out the poem and draw representational symbols next to each line. If the line mentioned praying or religion, I would draw a small cross. If the line talked about a type of animal, then I would draw said animal. Sometimes they were easy, sometimes they were a little more abstract, but they helped me in memorizing poems.
If I couldn’t remember the line, then I’d search for the image in my head which generally came up much quicker. Sometimes I’d even draw the image from a difficult line on my hand before going to recite to the teacher! (Is that cheating?)
I like to apply the same principle to e-learning. If there is a list that the learner needs to digest and memorize (because sometimes, no matter what, there is one), then I like to add memorable images next to each line. This is where icon sets or stick people can really come in hand. This is a simple example:
Having an actual, live teacher is a very ingrained part of human culture. Therefore, having a narrative type of person who is consistent through the course is a great way of showing consistency and to highlight key points on slides when an image simply doesn’t fit there. You can buy a character pack for Articulate Storyline, or the E-Learning Brothers also has cut outs of people to use included in their template library. If these are too expensive of an option, then try finding a series of stock photos.
Similar in nature, when you use scenarios and stories, try to find representational characters so that the learner can connect. For example, don’t show a business person in a course for nurses.
Charts, infographic-esque images, and anything that you can find that are instructional in nature are a great fit for e-learning courses. Avoid using images simply to “make it look better” or to fill up space – they end up distracting from the content itself. If you feel unhappy with a slide but can’t think of a good fit for an image, then think about restructuring the way you display the text over adding a filler image.
Trust me – I know it’s hard! However, thinking purposefully when choosing images will bring your courses to a whole new level. Any other recommendations for finding images?
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