Looking for something you can do to create more effective learning experiences for your workers? Experiences in which the workers really learn and then transfer that learning to the workplace? We all are, right?
One of the easiest things you can do to help your workers learn is to create better training visuals that are well-conceived and designed. In fact, research shows that you can use better training visuals to dramatically increase your learner’s comprehension, retention, and transfer of behaviors to the workplace—and that’s especially true for “novice” learners who are new to a particular content area.
Want to know why this is true? Want to learn some techniques to help you learn how to design great training materials? Sure you do! Just keep reading (and looking at the example visuals, of course) to learn more. We’ve got some great graphic design tips for elearning for you below–for any type of training, really.
Well, let’s look at some reasons.
So, first things first. Why is learning increased when the training materials include relevant visuals?
According to the well-accepted Dual Coding Theory, originally proposed by Allan Paivio, the brain has two separate systems for processing information. There’s one system for processing language (sometimes called the “verbal” system) and a second system for processing visual images. The brain can process information from both incoming “streams” at once, and the two streams of information work to support one another.
Well-designed training materials include information in both formats—language and visuals. And this leads to great training materials.
Although adding visuals to your training materials CAN increase their effectiveness, that doesn’t mean they ALWAYS do. For example, there are at least four cases in which adding visuals can decrease the effectiveness of the training. These are:
So, it pays to know something about visuals and how they affect learning. And we’ll present some ideas on that below.
Now that you know that visuals can improve your training materials, wouldn’t it be great if you had some more helpful tips for creating those visuals? Well, that’s exactly what we’ve got for you—25 specific graphic techniques that you can use when creating your visuals for maximum training power.
The techniques listed below are drawn from the excellent book Visual Language for Designers by Connie Malamed.
We thank Malamed for the work she put into her book and we encourage you to read it cover to cover yourself (buy a copy here). You can also check out her blog, the eLearning Coach, for lots more great stuff from her.
But what are those graphic design techniques, you ask? We’ll cover all 25 shortly, but you’ll see that they fit into the following six categories:
Still curious? If so, read on, because we’ve provided 25 explanations and examples of graphic design techniques you can use to design great training materials. As mentioned earlier, the ideas are drawn from the book by Connie Malamed. The visual examples are drawn from training courses created by Convergence Training.
One way designers can use visuals to increase the effectiveness of training materials is to organize and present the different items on-screen in a way that makes it easier for the viewer to recognize and “pull out” the desired information. Three techniques for doing that are using features that “pop out,” using textures to separate items, and grouping items.
Visual elements that “pop out” grab our brain’s conscious attention. Items on-screen may pop out for a number of reasons, including their size, color, shape, orientation on-screen, and more. For example, in the image below taken from a course on preventing back injuries, the yellow highlight on the spinal column makes it pop out from the rest of the image. This effectively draws the viewer’s attention to the spine as the audio narration speaks about the spine.
Now let’s look at a second example taken from a course on crane and hoist rigging. This image of the “sling angle” used in rigging uses a highlight to draw the viewer’s attention to the angle created by the sling—and that’s what the audio narration is talking about at the same time.
One of the first things our brain does to group the items in a visual into related units is to analyze the visual texture. Designers can use texture to guide the viewer to recognize and focus on important items on-screen, to separate the foreground and the background, and to provide a sense of depth.
For example, consider the image below, taken from a course on crane, hoists, and rigging. It uses three different textures to effectively represent the blank background, the core at the center of the wire rope, and the strands that surround that core. That makes it easy for the viewer to focus their attention as the audio discusses the different parts of the wire rope.
Or, in this example, taken from a course on slips, trips, and falls, texture helps to draw the viewer’s attention to the cracked and uneven surface of the broken concrete, which presents a tripping hazard.
One effective tip is to arrange items on-screen in ways that suggest they are associated with one another. Designers can do this by placing items near one another in space-or next to one another in time if it’s a video. They can also do this by representing items with the same or similar shapes and textures, or by arranging items to form a symmetrical figure. Likewise, items that don’t have these elements in common tend to look unrelated to one another.
For example, this image of the “pictograms” required by OSHA’s new Hazard Communication 2012 standard clearly suggests that the eight images on-screen, represented in similar shapes and textures and arranged to form a symmetrical shape, are all associated.
In our second example, taken from a course on trenching and excavation safety, the arrows are grouped on-screen and colored to draw the viewer’s attention and to illustrate a point. The grouped red arrows on either side of the trench represent the gravitational force that could lead to a cave-in, while the grouped green arrows represent the shoring used to prevent a cave-in.
Let’s review. We just covered three ways how to design great training materials with elements that immediately grab your workers’ pre-conscious attention. They are:
These techniques make it easier for your learners to quickly focus their attention and draw out meaning when they first glance at a visual. Using them in your training materials will help your learners understand and remember more.
Another way visuals designers can effectively use visuals in training materials is to direct the viewer’s eyes to the important parts of the screen or, as Malamed says in her book, “through the structure of the graphic.” Five ways to do that are to use position, emphasis, movement, eye gaze, and visual cues. We’ll look at each below.
A designer can use the boundaries of the visual to create a “frame,” and then place visual elements within that frame in a manner that guides the learner’s eyes through a path or sequence and/or gives hints about what is the most important element on-screen.
For example, consider the image below from a course that explains how to perform a job hazards analysis. It takes advantage of the eye’s natural tendency to read from top to bottom and left to right to create a “visual hierarchy” of information. In the top left, we learn we’re analyzing the “What?” of the JHA’s four-step “Where?/What?/How?/Consequences” sequence, and as our eyes scan to the right, we see that the sharp blade is an example of the “What?” that defines the hazard.
Now let’s look at a second example, taken from a course on ergonomics. The worker’s spine is located directly in the center of the image, making it easy for the learner to focus on the risks of working in awkward postures.
Another way to direct the viewer’s attention is by using emphasis. Malamed notes that the artist can do this by varying size, tone, color, texture, shape, and more.
For example, the image below, taken from a course about emergency action plans, uses the contrasting colors of yellow and green to emphasize the importance of knowing the best way to evacuate your work area in the event of an emergency.
Or, in this example, taken from a course on fall prevention and protection, the red color of the scaffolding creates contrast with the blue background of the glass building, immediately directing the learner’s eyes and attention to the scaffold and its position “at height.”
Yet another way to direct the viewer’s attention is through the use of “movement” in the image. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to use animation (though that can be useful), but that the image conveys a sense of movement. This can be done with repetition, lines, curves, three-dimensional depth, and other techniques.
For example, the arrows in the image below effectively explain the motion of the parts within a pump and the motion of the fluid through the line and the pump itself.
The image below, which explains the “lay” of a wire rope, doesn’t show active motion but does show the related concept of direction. The image is from a course explaining wire ropes, in particular from a discussion about the lay of a rope. Wire rope can have a right lay, in which the strands are wrapped to the right around a central core, or it can have a left lay, in which the strands are wrapped to the left. The arrow in the image effectively communicates the direction of the wrap, and therefore the rope’s “lay.”
The same concept can be used to show a process. For example, the image below, taken from a course on chemical process safety management, arranges the different elements in a job process within a straight line to help demonstrate their sequence within the process and the concept of a process in general.
And our final example, taken from a course on line breaking, the use of three-dimensional representation is one of the techniques used draw attention to the pipe in the foreground. (Pop quiz—how many other techniques can you notice in this one image?)
Another trick of the trade is to use eyes within the image to direct the attention of the viewer’s eyes. Specifically, a designer can draw attention directly to an eye (or eyes) within the image, or direct attention in the direction that a person within the image is looking.
For example, this image from a course on first aid at the work place uses the man’s eyes to direct the viewer’s attention to his hand, where an amputation injury has occurred. You probably noticed this same technique in the line-breaking graphic during the pop quiz just above, no?
Or, in this example, taken from a course on fire safety, the man’s eyes help to direct our attention to the fire extinguisher on the wall.
A final method for directing the viewer’s eyes—and their attention—is to use visual cues. These cues can include arrows, color, highlights, captions. For example, this image from a course on valves uses a line, color, and caption to help explain which part of a valve is the bonnet.
Or, in this example, taken from a course that explains how doctor blades work in the process of making paper, the yellow lines below draw the viewer’s attention to the angle between a large drum and the doctor blade (this angle affects the amount that the paper coming off the drum is “crumpled,” more correctly known as creping).
There you have it. Five ways to direct the viewer’s attention to the most important elements of a visual. They were:
Training visuals that use these techniques really boost the end result—changing your workers’ on-the-job behaviors.
In her book, Malamed discusses the importance of simplifying images in order to increase comprehension and retention. Simpler visuals allow