November 4, 2020 |

Using Graphics in Learning Material

The main job of an instructional designer is to create instructionally sound courses and there should be no expectation that learning specialists are also professional graphic artists. However, to make our courses more visually appealing to learners we need to be aware of basic graphic design principles.  Ruth Clark and Chopeta Lyons (2010) have identified 7 types of graphics specifically in relation to *eLearning, but I think these principles can just as easily be utilised for training material which is delivered in other formats such face or face or when creating course handouts.

The 7 types of graphics are defined as Decorative, Mnemonic, Representational, Organizational, Relational, Transformational, and Interpretative.

  • Decorative graphics: their purpose is aesthetic, and while they can look appealing, they are not intended to add any specific instructional value so are typically used on book or course material covers as opposed to within the body of learning material.
  • Mnemonic graphics: used to represent factual information. By looking at images which represent relevant facts, learners are helped to retrieve facts from memory.

Mnemonic graphic

  • Representational graphics: these are used to represent text. The idea is that learners should be able to understand what the text is about just by looking at the graphic, so that might be a screen capture or a photo of a specific piece of equipment.
  • Organizational graphics: their purpose is to help orient learners to the structure and sequence of lesson content. An organizational graphic shows the qualitative relationships among the main ideas in a lesson, e.g. this might be course map or geometric visuals to show the sequence and content so the learner has an overview of what the learning is intended to provide.
  • Relational graphics: these show the quantitative relationship of variables, so charts and graphs are the best examples as they organise data and information in ways that should make it easy to compare and contrast information and allow learners to visualise the relationship between the numbers presented in the content.
  • Transformational graphics: used to show changes over time, so these would include timelines, before and after images, or a video to show a process.
  • Interpretative graphics: these illustrate abstract theories or principles and might include things such as a schematic diagram, simulations or animated images to mimic how something works.

Tip: Once your graphic has been chosen, the next step is to select an appropriate size and format. If the course material will be online it is worth remembering that while high-resolution graphics looks nice and crisp, they can take a considerable amount of space. As well, high-resolution graphics may take a long time to load and that can cause annoyance and frustration for learners, so you risk alienating them to the actual course content. Probably the best approach is to start with a high-resolution graphic and then resize and squeeze it down as much as possible.  This doesn’t work as well with scaling small images up as the graphic may appear pixilated, so best to start with the bigger, better resolution and downsize it.

*I have chosen to use the term eLearning, however depending on personal preference and the organization you work for, it might also be termed e-learning, e-Learning or elearning (just as we have dropped the dash in e-mail to the more common email, I think the hyphen in e-learning will soon be redundant).

For more on this topic see: Clark, R.C. and Lyons, C. (2010). Graphics for Learning: Proven Guidelines for Planning, Designing, and Evaluating Visuals in Training Materials. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Pfeiffer.


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October 12, 2020 |

Learning Assessment

In-house training sessions in the workplace typically tend not to have an assessment component, with formal assessment tending to be more a hallmark of an e-learning event or some type of certification training.  However their may come a type when you as a trainer will be called upon to create an assessment tool.

Assessment stress

When assessment is done, the objectives of the learning event will govern the type of types of assessment actions chosen with the assessment ensuring they are appropriate to your specific situation. As a broad principle, concentrate on the learners’ ability to apply content rather than their ability to recall facts when creating assessment items. In the type of most IT based/technical training that I deliver this tends to be the most common way of achieving this.  For example, if it is a PowerPoint course, the latter part of the session will be asking the attendees to put their new skills to use in creating a specific type of presentation.  This is basically a free form activity that allows the learner to assess their own abilities and gives them a chance to work out if there are any gaps.  The activity is not “scored” or judged, but instead is a litmus test to help the learner self-assess their progress. This is non-confrontational for adult learners to experience some feedback and assessment and fits in with the principles of Adult Learning Theory (Malcolm Knowles,1970) as it allows for a more self-directed than didactic approach.

But, if an assessment instrument is necessary (e.g. for an e-learning module), then the following should be kept in mind:

The assessment itself should be valid. To achieve this need to write test questions which accurately assess the knowledge and skills specified in the learning objectives. The assessment questions should obviously be clearly written and easy to understand. If the question is poorly worded and the learners (through no fault of their own) misinterpret the intended meaning of a test question, the results would no longer be valid. To improve validity, you should write assessment items that focus on the application of knowledge rather than just comprehension levels. As you create the questions you should consider having professional colleagues (e.g. SMEs, other L&D professionals or instructional designers) review them for you and then if necessary, they can be revised based on the reviewers’ feedback.

The most common types of assessment questions are:

  • multiple choice: probably the most popular type of assessment in eLearning. Multiple choice questions require learners to choose the best response from several options.
  • true/false: typically measures understanding of facts such as names, dates, and definitions.
  • fill-in-the-blank, also known as completion items. This type of question requires learners to finish a sentence by filling the correct word or phrase in a blank.
  • matching: consists of a list of questions or statements and a list of responses, with learners required to find a match or association between each question and response, and
  • free responses or short answers or essays: not as commonly used, this type requires learners to understand the content in order to answer the question. and require a higher level of thinking, analyzing, and logically presenting information.


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September 25, 2020 |

Motivating Learners

The ARCS Model of Motivational Design was developed by John Keller (Keller, 2009).  The intention behind the use of Motivational design theory in learning and the ARCS Model specifically, is to connect the instruction to the goals of students.  Keller combined the elements from many motivational designs into 4 major categories which he called the ARCS Model of Motivational Design. The acronym stands for: (A)ttention, (R)elevance, (C)onfidence and (S)atisfaction and he believes that all of these aspects must be addressed for a successful learning event to have occurred.

Learner Motivation

In this model you are encouraged to think about and address the following aspects when designing your instructional session:

Attention: capturing the interest of learners and stimulating their desire to learn.  Ask yourself: how can I make this learning experience stimulating and interesting.  Depending on your audience this might be through, This can be done through games, role-plays, humor, visuals, discussion or rhetorical questions.

Relevance:  ensuring the learning is applicable to the learners’ knowledge and addresses their learning needs. In designing the learning event ask yourself how will this learning experience be valuable to my students? Ensure you explain the importance and usefulness of the content by providing relevant examples and learning goals so they can make these connections themselves.

Confidence: helping the learners to steer the learning and feel they will succeed and have control their success. To facilitate learner success you would design challenging but doable activities and ensure you are providing evaluation and feedback.

Satisfaction: this results when the learner finds the overall experience positive and worthwhile and feels good about their accomplishments. To ensure this step is met you need to make sure that you offer reinforcement of what they already learned and provide opportunities to practice the newly acquired knowledge and skills. It might include some type of reward or acknowledgement such as a certificate of achievement.

For more information see: Keller, John (979) Wikipedia

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October 21, 2009 |

Creating online training videos

I have spent today learning Camtasia, a brilliant software program for creating training videos.  While the product itself is not tricky to learn, I have to say I am finding it a challenge to create even a small video that has both the actions and narration properly timed – and while I spend a lot of time in front of a class and using an overhead connected to a computer, I am ashamed to say how long it has taken me to create one small instructional video on using Word synonyms!  Ah well, I guess it is all a learning experience – I may even invite ridicule and put my first effort up here – I’m thinking about it!!!