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10 Types of Visual Content You Should Use to Increase Learner Engagement

We love visuals. In fact, we are wired to respond more to visuals than to words. That is why we are so hooked to Pinterest and Instagram. This is also the reason why Facebook posts and tweets with images get liked and are retweeted the most.

But as an Instructional Designer, what should interest you more is the fact that the human brain can process visuals faster than text. So if you care about creating more engaging eLearning, you MUST include powerful and engaging visuals in your courses. Visuals take away from the burden of reading through tomes of text, navigating language ambiguities, and making sense of jargons and complex sentence structures.

Learn about the ten most useful tools that you can incorporate into your eLearning courses to get your content to stick and resonate with your audience: 


#1: Photographs

Choosing photos should not be an after-thought. It is not a chore that you approach without a thought and then do a slapdash job of it. A relevant, memorable image is a powerful instructional tool that drives learner engagement, reduces cognitive load, and fulfills the learning objectives most efficiently.

Meaningful and relevant photographs stir audience emotions and compel them to pay attention to the content. Photographs can also simplify complex learning matter and make your content stick in the learner's mind. But beware of abusing this powerful visual tool; you can easily go wrong.

Here are some tips:

Learn how to choose and create visuals that will move your learners in this article: Making the Most of Visuals in eLearning: 9 Tips and 5 Examples. 

#2: Illustrations and Icons

Stock photography sites may not always have photographs that suit our purposes. Using illustrations and icons in such cases to help learners make sense of complex learning matter is fundamental. Here are some tips on creating effective illustrations and icons:

  • Use illustrations when you have to point out and explain the different parts of an object or a process, or when the parts are minute and remain hidden from the eye.
  • Use illustrations and/or icons to represent complex relationships and hidden patterns.
  • Use icons to organize content into a scannable and easily digestible form. This discourages distraction and helps learners make sense of your content quickly. For instance, use icons for bullet points. This adds an element of interest to the content without taking up valuable screen real estate.

Also read: Design Styles You Can Adopt When Creating eLearning 

#3: Visualizations (like charts and graphs)

Visualizations like charts and graphs are excellent learning tools to explain complex relationships, reveal hidden patterns and trends, and associate seemingly unrelated concepts and ideas.

  • Flow charts (or flow diagrams) are graphics that represent a series of steps or processes. They are especially useful to visualize a multi-step process or a series of conditional outcomes.
  • Pie charts show percentages of a whole - how much government spending went to each department last year, for example.
  • Vertical bar graphs are good for showing change over time - total spending over each of the last ten years.

Read more: 4 Types of Visualizations You Can Use in eLearning, And Why They Work

#4: Screen captures

These are the best visual tools to explain computer processes. eLearning courses that teach how to navigate a new program or how to use an application use screencasts extensively. It makes perfect sense because the learners actually get to see and work in a simulated version of the real environment that they would perform in when they go back to their desks.

Screenshots are also ideal for courses that teach how to fill out forms and submit them on an online platform. You can then enhance these visuals and make them more effective by adding text blocks and arrows to explain terms and jargons and point out relationships between the various elements on the screen.

Some tools you can use:

  • Jing® is a nifty screen capture tool you can use. 
  • Skitch (owned by Evernote)

#5: Characters

We are social animals. We relate to other human beings and are influenced by their opinions and suggestions. In fact, we relate more to "faces" than to "voices" that we consider impersonal and unfriendly. That is why, using characters in your eLearning courses can create more impact than a chunk of text that seems to be broadcasted at all and sundry by just another brand eager to thrusts its goods down your throat. What is more, using characters in your eLearning courses gives learners that familiar sense of being instructed by a teacher or a mentor, as they had been back in school. It also gives your audience something to visualize and hold onto in the sea of new information they are being immersed in.

Here are a few tips to help you create impactful and memorable characters for your eLearning courses:

  • Study audience demographics thoroughly to find out about the types of personalities they can easily and commonly relate to.
  • Using characters or avatars lets you impart an informal tone to your messages. Make sure your character speaks naturally but engagingly.
  • Get creative! Here Are 5 Character Archetypes You Can Use in Your eLearning Courses
  • Here are some more tips on how to create believable and human characters that can build a rapport with your audience.

#6: Animated GIFs

Animated GIFs are not just for websites or to send funny cat videos in emails. They have an important place in your eLearning visual toolkit as well. In fact, they usually create more impact than photographs because they contain action. We love action! And what is more, animated GIFs can be as effective in conveying meaning, eliciting emotions, and explaining processes as videos without gobbling up bandwidth like the latter. Besides, you can use animated GIFs within a myriad of settings—from explaining the steps of making organic soaps to creating a mood.

Want to learn to create an animated GIF? Check out these 7 easy tips from Invision App.

#7: Infographics

If you are a regular on the Internet, then you know infographics are everywhere. From explaining complex analytical reports to listing processes and from representing statistics to telling a story, infographics come in handy and are effective in communicating many different scenarios.

Infographics are not only quintessentially cool, but they also provide a visually attractive way to present complex information and keep learners hooked.

You can also create infographics to liven up content, say, for example, a list of statistics. Here is a 5-step guide to help you create compelling and effective infographics for eLearning.

Also, follow these tips on how to create meaningful infographics that turn heads.

#8: Pictographs and Comics

Hark back to your childhood when you "behaved" the whole week so that Mom would let you watch your favorite cartoon show on Sunday. Remember your wonder and fascination when you first laid your hands on the weekly or monthly comic book? You used to finish it by the time you reached home from the bookstand.

Comics have a way of reaching out to and touching the inner child in us. They shun all pretenses at seriousness and yet teach us life-changing lessons. This scientific study proves the point.

Pictographs or simple line drawings also have an instant appeal. Not hung up on appearances, these simple drawings are excellent tools for explaining complex steps and procedures and are easily understood even by people with limited literacy or comprehension skills. In fact, pictographs are so effective that they are often used in medical settings as well.

#9: Visual Notes

Sketchnotes or visual notes are way more fun than presenting boring written text. These let you organize and integrate knowledge, bring concepts together, connect different ideas and translate them into visual forms with the help of a few simple lines, arrows and a little text.

You can create awesome visual notes even if you don't have a degree in fine art! Sketching does not aim to create an artistic masterpiece; it is just a technique to translate your content into a concrete, visible form that you can share with learners. 

#10: Typography

Did you know that 90% of your web design is typography? If you master typography, you can enhance readability, encourage information processing, and even engage learners' emotions.

Here's what you can do to grab the attention of learners with typography:

  • Use fonts that are clear, legible, and stand out from the other graphical elements on the screen.
  • Play with colors to draw attention and improve visibility and readability of the text on the screen. 
  • Synchronize text with images so that they create harmony on the screen.
  • Set up contrast between different fonts or between text and empty space, to focus learner's attention. 

Bonus! Last but, not least: Video 

Have you ever wondered why the same learners who can’t seem to remain awake during a PowerPoint presentation sit entranced through a video? What is so riveting in this medium?  In a nutshell, video fits the learning preferences of most learners.

  • Familiar Format: The wild success of YouTube, Vimeo, and Vine prove that today, people are more comfortable consuming content through videos than reading or listening to it.
  • More Interesting: Moving images breathe life into dull content. Videos provide you with the opportunity to present content in an engaging way, using real-life stories and scenarios.

Using videos for training makes instructional sense too. Videos make learning more effective, and as an instructional designer, you want your courses to have the maximum impact, get talked about, and make a difference to your learners’ lives. Right?

Start creating your own DIY videos! Go over this short and simple tutorial.

Other recommended reads: 

Why Video is a Must-Have for Your eLearning Strategy

5 Ways to Make Onboarding Training More Engaging with Video

You have a large visual eLearning toolkit to pack a punch in your courses. Make sure that you use the tools appropriately and with restraint and empathy to impress your audience. But don't let your creativity be stifled either. We all want to have fun, and your corporate adult learner, bored with dull presentations and mountains of statistics, craves it.

visual design crash course


Karla Gutierrez

Karla is an Inbound Marketer @Aura Interactiva, the developers of SHIFT. ES:Karla is an Inbound Marketer @Aura Interactiva, the developers of SHIFT.

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