Welcome back to our #BLPLearn blog series, where we offer a monthly look at design and technology as it pertains to learning and development. I’m your host, Jake Huhn… Senior Marketing Technologist at Bottom-Line Performance.
Let’s Talk About Gestalt Principles
Learning design and graphic design sometimes feel like two distant worlds. When you’re building a course—or working with a vendor—and you’re responsible for results, it can make graphic design seem like a trivial afterthought. You’re concerned with making sure every word is perfect, and making sure every step is explained thoroughly, and making sure you provide accurate definitions. Where’s the time to worry about how “pretty” that screen looks?
But I want to encourage you to make graphic design a higher priority—and there’s science to back me up.
It all has to do with Gestalt Principles of Organization. “The Gestalt principles of organization involve observations about the ways in which we group together various stimuli to arrive at perceptions of patterns and shapes.” [Gestalt Principles of Organization] These principles are essentially graphic design 101, and every designer should at least be familiar with them. And researchers at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia have shown how Gestalt theory can help improve learning:
“The new screen designs were then evaluated by asking students and others to compare the designs. The viewers were also asked to rate directly the value of using the eleven Gestalt design principles in the redesign, both for improving the product’s appearance and improving its value for learning.The evaluation results were overwhelmingly positive. Both the new design and the value of applying the eleven Gestalt laws to improve learning were strongly supported by the students’ opinions.”
These researchers aren’t alone, either. Other research has shown how these principles facilitate Visual Working Memory, an essential part of learning and other cognitive processes.
Implications for Learning Design
As a graphic designer, I gravitate towards how beautiful, clean design can improve learners’ comprehension of a course… but there’s more that Gestalt theory can offer learning designers. Gestalt is more than graphic design, it’s an entire psychology of perception—and it can improve more than just looks.
Consider what Gestalt theory teaches us about Similarity. Learning is facilitated if similar ideas are treated and linked together and then contrasted with opposing or complementary sets of ideas.
It can also shape the way you challenge your learners (think quizzing). “The Gestalt theory of learning purports the importance of presenting information or images that contain gaps and elements that don’t exactly fit into the picture. This type of learning requires the learner to use critical thinking and problem solving skills. Rather than putting out answers by rote memory, the learner must examine and deliberate in order to find the answers they are seeking.” [Gestalt Theory (von Ehrenfels)]
And bringing it back to where we started, the graphic design of your learning solution (the proximity of text to images, the negative space, the clean lines) is yet another piece of the puzzle when it comes to facilitating proper learning. If you organize your information and images according to these principles, your learning solution will look beautiful and be more effective.
So Take the Time to Learn About Gestalt Theory
I hope I’ve made the case that taking graphic design 101 can actually benefit your learning design. There is a lot of information on the web—from either universities or graphic design authorities—that can help give you an overview of Gestalt principles in design. A great starting point is this Designer’s Guide to Gestalt Theory on Creative Bloq. From there you can dive into the actual psychology and even explore eLearning Industry’s website for more industry specific coverage.
Chang, Dempsey, Laurence Dooley, and Juhani E. Tuovinen. “Gestalt Theory in Visual Screen Design: A New Look at an Old Subject.” Proceedings of the Seventh World Conference on Computers in Education Conference on Computers in Education: Australian Topics 8 (2002). Accessed March 27, 2016. http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=820062.
“Gestalt Theory (von Ehrenfels).” Learning-Theories.com. 2014. Accessed March 27, 2016. http://www.learning-theories.com/gestalt-theory-von-ehrenfels.html.
Peterson, Dwight J., and Marian E. Berryhill. “The Gestalt Principle of Similarity Benefits Visual Working Memory.” Psychon Bull Rev. 20, no. 6 (December 20, 2013): 1282-289. Accessed March 27, 2016. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3806891/#R23.
“Gestalt Principles of Organization.” Psychology Encyclopedia. 2013. Accessed March 27, 2016. http://psychology.jrank.org/pages/278/Gestalt-Principles-Organization.html.