Images and graphics have always been a part of learning and e-learning is also no exception. More than just jazzing up the ‘look and feel’ aspect, graphics can enhance learning as a whole. A common view that including graphics in a learning module is a sure-shot way of relieving tedium and doing away with ‘white space’ is outdated. It is sometimes the norm for some e-learning courses to have minimalistic graphical elements. For others, however, it can build the very essence of learning and rise above being just a sidekick to content or textual matter!
So, when sitting with the important task of thinking up the graphical angle of a course – along with a lot of creative thought and imagination, one needs to also keep in mind some of these points –
- Audience profile: Graphics do not follow the ‘one-size-fits-all’ criteria. Age, education, cultural background – the list of factors affecting the learner sensibilities is long and exhaustive. But it is, in the same time the window to what the learner expects and appreciates. Understanding the learner and learner needs is thus crucial to designing graphics for instruction. Not only does it help to anticipate the learner appreciation, it also helps to steer clear of what the learner might NOT like or understand.
- The learning platform: The kind of training – web based or computer based, or available internet bandwidth also influences the kind of graphics to be included in the training course. Graphics of web based trainings (WBTs ) are often lighter and can be viewed well, keeping in mind available bandwidth. Graphics used are often vector graphics, which can be adjusted as per screen size and are also lighter than bitmaps. On the other hand, Computer based trainings (CBTs) can support heavy graphics, with the availability of compact discs and CD-ROMs. To use the right kind of graphics as per the kind of platform available to the learner is again, imperative for the success of learning
- Limits and Constraints: While it is indeed necessary to unleash creativity, it is also important to keep practical constraints like budget, time-lines or corporate standards in mind and work around them. Most graphics professionals agree that it is better to use simple but well-made graphics rather than shabby ones for the excuse of low budgets or time constraints. The world of graphics is huge and there’s a lot one can choose from. 2D or 3D, animated or still – the choice has to be made keeping all constraints in mind. And working around them is possible. Treatment of graphics can be creative and an image does not have to literally ‘talk’ to be able to get its message across.
And while keeping the above points in mind, some of these essentials should also be taken into consideration –
- Relevance: Every aspect of design – be it the color scheme or a particular image – has to have relevance as per the learning objectives of the course. Visual appeal of the screen should communicate in accordance with the tone of the entire content and discordance in the tone of the content and graphics will be jarring.
- Placement: Some standardized norms in graphical treatment have become familiar to most learners. For instance, the logo placement in the top-left or interactive phrases like ‘next’ or ‘click to continue’ on the bottom-right. Many such norms are formed during the course of a learning module. For example, names of people or characters introduced in a certain pattern can lend them hierarchy or relevance, which the learner perceives and expects throughout the duration of the course. A deviation from this structure can confuse or distract the learner.
- Aesthetics: While we agree that graphics have to be relevant to the entire theme and objective of the learning module, at the end of the day, it DOES need to look good. Every graphical element needs to find uniformity throughout the structure of the course. This helps to build the course as a whole, where none of its visual elements stick out as the oddity.
- Fonts, size, style, color scheme: Some fonts suit the formal courses while some are suited to more informal ones. Size and styles too add to the necessary zing. Colors are also instrumental in setting the ‘tone’ of the training. Once this tone is set, it is necessary to maintain it through the course of the training. Tweaking with the elements of fonts, size, style or color can bring about the necessary changes in tone. However, this can be a ‘no-trespassing’ area! Some of the aspects like fonts and colors are pre-decided by the client and have to be worked with accordingly.
- De-Clutter: Using images, charts, graphs or interactive elements in graphics can certainly help the learner. At the same time, it is important to find a balance so that it does not become the case of ‘too much of a good thing’! Too many visuals on a single slide or page can confuse the learner. If a hard-hitting image or an informative graph is included in a page or slide, it is important that there is ample space for contemplation or assimilation of its effect. In this matter, empty space is of foremost relevance.
A world of creativity and unfathomable possibilities is the world of graphics. In e-learning, it lends its relevance best when creativity is meshed with understanding client needs, learning objectives and the learner.