#BIN2012: 5 Reasons Your eLearning Content Needs Better Visuals

Instructional designers are often first and foremost writers. They are creative, verbose, and effective with language. This is both a strength and a crutch. We say we want to be clear and concise, but it’s true most of us are still secretly turning that unwritten novel over in our heads…

Portraits of Simón de la Valle and María del Carmen Cortés y Cartavio

Portraits of Simón de la Valle and María del Carmen Cortés y Cartavio, courtesy of Denver Art Museum. How many writers still kind of see themselves as “this guy?”

We love to tell stories, and the written word is an oh-so-tempting way to do it. It’s succinct. It’s effective. And most importantly, it’s in our comfort zone.

Your audience is not concerned with your personal preferences and communication styles. Their attention is fragmented and their expectations are high. You can’t expect to write a pretty sentence or paragraph and get your point across. Not when we are surrounded with ever louder, more vibrant media. But this doesn’t mean you need to rush to iStock and find the first picture of a multi-cultural office worker you can find and throw it in your course. Not at all! The writing still comes first.

Your eLearning visuals should be more engaging than this.

Your eLearning visuals should be more engaging than this.

If you are a Facebook user, a quick glance down your news feed is all you need to see what the type of content we share is changing. Pictures, Memes and infographics dominate the screen, and Facebook has only encouraged this trend with the introduction of Facebook timeline and user interface changes.

This has a major impact on all of us in the world of communications, from learning designer to marketer. I had the pleasure of attending my first Blog Indiana conference last week, a gathering of bloggers, social media pros, and marketers in Indianapolis. Our opening keynote was by Roundpeg’s Communications Director Allison Carter. Her presentation, “A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Clicks: Creating a Visual Content Strategy,” was the inspiration for this post.

Blog Indiana 2012 was held August 9th-10th in Indianapolis

Allison is a marketing and PR expert in Indianapolis, and a prolific writer and blogger. I learned plenty from her and the other #BIN2012 presenters about marketing and social media, but what Allison shared offers plenty of lessons for the world of learning design, as well. Even when our purpose and intent is different, we are all still writers.

In 2012 and beyond, a “writer” is called to be more than master of the written word. The best writer knows when words fail and an image succeeds. Content is a broader term than ever before, including images, video, interactive elements, and yes…good old fashioned words and punctuation.

So whether you are writing to instruct or to sell products, visual content matters. But don’t take my word for it…

5 Takeaways from Allison’s Presentation:

  1. Words and pictures are not in opposition. Images color (no pun intended) our expectations: At the start of her presentation, Allison admitted to heavily favoring the writing side of things. She has made a conscious effort to collaborate early and often with Roundpeg’s design team to unite her words with images and layout elements. Whether you are solely a writer or a writer/designer combo, be prepared to combine both mediums early and often.
  2. Images fix a single moment in time: Which has more impact – a paragraph describing a violent conflict or a candid image of the scene? Images can rouse more emotions in less time, and it is our emotions that motivate our actions. Words are more effective on an intellectual level.
  3. Your business is visual. Even parts that aren’t that pretty are still visual: No matter what your industry may be, there is a way to communicate it visually. A large-scale manufacturing plant could include candid images of real, happy workers following safety regulations as part of its training. Even a traditional office full of cubicles has something visually interesting to show.
  4. Show benefit of the product, not the product itself: If the concept you are trying to convey is more intangible or abstract, images can allow you to show the benefit or result. How do people feel and behave when a process is successfully followed?
  5. Things don’t need to be slick and perfect anymore. Those days are gone. Get out of your own way: The quality of images you use is important, but Hollywood production values are not always necessary. Don’t let the need for visual perfection get in the way of including interesting visual content.

While Allison’s presentation focused around marketing and blogging, these core principles are just as important for effective learning design. Your eLearning visuals need to stand out from the crowd. It requires some extra effort to stop and consider effective visuals when we are trying to rapidly produce content, but a few well-placed images can go a long way.