• Graphics in eLearning

    Researchers have time and again been involved in studies that identify patterns on learning in various groups of people. Whether it’s a group of children or adult learners, one explanation holds true for all. It has been observed that learners understand better when instruction is presented in the form of text and images compared to text alone.  An even better concoction is less text accompanied with elaborate narration and graphics. Let’s take a look at the diagram below:

    Hydrologic Cycle

    Hydrologic Cycle


    This graphical representation alone will be easier for students to understand how precipitation takes place and will be retained for a longer duration than a two-page write-up on the hydrologic cycle which will most probably be forgotten the very next day.

    The main principle of conveying a concept, principle or procedure through visual representation is that the learner may not experience cognitive load which may defeat the goal of instruction altogether. Use of graphics is not enough; a visual representation should be effective and fulfill the objectives by being logically and aesthetically sound for any e-learning course content. Astonishingly, many instructional designers falter in this area. The choice of multimedia will largely depend on the learner group characteristics, the complexity of content, and the goal of instruction.

    Here is a list of simple points that instructional designers should keep in mind while working with graphic developers.

    1. Choosing an image or graphical representation also depends on the role or function the graphic is going to play in a course and the level of importance that graphic play in aiding text to enhance retention. For example, an image may just be used for aesthetic purpose only and may not contribute much to the content. Other functions of graphics may be as follows:

    • Depiction of something, illustration of how an object might look in real life
    • Show relationship between two objects or show workflows; e.g., flowcharts
    • Showing change in an object, structure or person over time.
    • Illustrate a cause and effect relation; i.e. depiction of a principle like demand and supply

    2. Learner’s characteristics and age group is a major factor of consideration while choosing/creating appropriate graphics.  For e.g., a course for 20-25 yrs sales reps in the automobile sector can use a lot of bright colors and trendier design than that produced for a more mature audience.

    3. Type of content is yet another importance deciding factor. Graphics are mainly used to communicate something to the learner. If a graphic representation does not complement the text with it, it may be futile to use it in the first place. For e.g., entirely different sets of graphics will be used to teach processes (flowcharts/workflows) and causal relationship (graphs).

    4. While communicating complex learning objects, the simplicity of graphics should also be kept in mind. For example, a difficult and lengthy procedure can be shown with the help of numbered image for each step which will help the learner to understand them in sequence and also what needs to be done at each step.

    There are many more technical aspects to creation and application of graphics when considered from a developer’s point of view. We hope to cover those in another article. The mentioned points should be used as checkboxes to see whether each of these areas have been given enough though before involving resources and getting into production.


  • Navigation Aids for eLearning

    In the modern corporate scenario, many companies are deploying online training courses for their employees to enhance their skill set. When it comes to corporate giants, it is almost impossible to customize e-learning courses keeping each employee in mind. The learner base may involve a range of employees, from first-time users to veterans. Therefore, it is important to design courses that answer all possible queries the learner might have about going about a course.

    No matter how instructionally and aesthetically well designed a course is; giving too many navigation instructions would only make the users feel intimidated. Some may even opt out of actually going through the course at all. However, giving no instructions for the user to go about the course and explore other information like the menu, job aids or glossary section isn’t a solution to that. In elearning, it’s hard to predict who will view the course and how comfortable they would be while viewing one. Therefore, navigational instructions should be such that they provide the necessary information precisely and yet be user friendly.

    Studies show that there is higher user satisfaction when navigational instructions/aids are available. A very basic solution is to lay out the course in a linear format, where there user has click on the next button to proceed further. This however, hampers the interactivity and gives the learner less control i.e. he may not be able to return to a topic he thinks he will need to revise. Therefore navigation aids are depicted and not written out, i.e. they are graphical representations. For example,

    Arrows1. Use of a forward and back arrow to show direction of content. Likewise, using play button to prompt the user to play a video, instead of cluttering the page with the instruction to click on the play button to view the video.



    menu_icon2. Using a list icon for showing the menu. This is a very important tab as it gives the learner an overview of the course structure and the ability to return to a topic for revision in case the learner feels so. Area indicators or breadcrumbs are also applied to this pop up i.e. it color of the visited topics should change indicating the learners progress through the course.


    A few pointers to be kept in mind while employing navigation aids are as follows:

    • If buttons are being used, they should be clearly labeled. If signs are used on them, they should not be ambiguous.
    • Contrast is an important factor; navigation aids should be clearly visible.
    • Complimentary colors should be used to highlight button functionality.
    • Placement and use of navigation controls should be consistently throughout all page types in a course.
    • All navigation aids in the course should be tested before it is launched to see whether they are appropriately programmed/linked to the pages they point to and any glitches should be rectified.

    Some instructional designers prefer a mix of textual and graphical representation of navigation aids. This is a good approach as it is a mid-way solution. However, one should be cognizant of the verbiage and that it doesn’t make the pages cluttery with unwanted or redundant information plonked on them. After all, ease of use is inextricably linked with the user/learner satisfaction gained from a well laid out elearning course.