Monday, January 4, 2010

Training Graphics - Theory and Software

There’s a lot to be said about the role of visuals in training. Now, we are all familiar with the four primary senses used in training. But just in case, the “Accelerated Learning Handbook” by Dave Meier lists them as: “Somatic – Learning by moving and doing, Auditory – Learning by talking and hearing, Visual – Learning by observing and picturing, and Intellectual – learning by problem solving and reflecting.” (p. 42)
Regardless of whether you are creating graphics for a face-to-face presentation, or for some type of computer-based training, it’s important for the graphic to accurately represent the concept you are trying to present. If this rule is violated, as it often is, you may actually be hindering the learning process. Also, I see a lot of people use graphics just to fill in space, or because they look “neat”. This may also be violating my #1 rule of graphics… Everything MUST have a purpose. If it doesn’t, don’t use it!
Now, I’ve only been developing e-learning for a year now, so I realize I have a lot to learn on this topic… Especially being self taught. However, I’ve picked up some really good information on this topic and recommend the following books if you are a beginner:

Graphics for Learning by Clark and Lyons
Design Elements: A Graphic Style Manual by Samara
Title Design Essentials for Film and Video by Plummer
Beyond Words: A Guide to Drawing out Ideas by Sonneman
Mapping Inner Space: Learning and Teaching Visual Mapping by Margulies

These are my favorite graphics related titles in my training library, and should give anyone a solid foundation in training-related graphic design theory. Deciding the graphic to create, to me, is the hard part. “Graphics for Learning” by Clark and Lyons presents this decision as a two sided coin in that graphics should fall under two areas: Communication Functions, and Psychological Functions. I don’t want to go too deep into this topic today, check out this book, it’s great! Something I do to help with ideas is to Google image search the words “flow chart”, and “Process.” Try it out!
Once you have an idea about which graphic to create, it’s time to start prototyping. I usually do this in either PowerPoint, or Word. It usually looks nothing like what the final version would, but it will give me a chance to test out interpretation and functionality. Since I’m not working in a team, I usually e-mail it out to random co-workers and see what they think, and ask for feedback. This ties into my last post as to where some of my challenges occur. Here’s some advice: create a form for your testers to fill out. Be specific with your questions (especially if it will be an interactive design). General or vague questions will get general and vague responses. Try not to tell them anything about it’s purpose. You need to get honest feedback from them, as someone looking at the graphic for the first time. If you tell them about the graphic before they look at it, it will influence their interpretation. This where you get the common saying “Garbage In, Garbage out.” Their feedback becomes worthless, and could give you a false sense of confidence as to its true effectiveness. After you receive feedback, make adjustments and then repeat the feedback process until you are satisfied with the results. Also, use new people every time if you can.
After the prototyping phase is complete, it’s time to refine the project. This is where you can use some type of image-editing software. I personally use The Gimp ( It’s free, and works much like Photoshop. I’ll tell you now that if you’ve never used image-editing software before, there will be a learning curve. To help with that, The Gimp has a large library of tutorials.
In training, we are usually dealing with some type of flow chart, or diagram. I try to visualize the image in layers. I’ve noticed that most of the time there’s some type of darker background layer with a lighter, slightly smaller layer laid on top of it. Create the background first and then slowly add layers on top of it. Learn which colors look good together. If you don’t know (I’m still learning myself), the best advice I’ve been given is to look around at websites that have “the look” you want. I still do this for almost every graphic. Something else to consider is the typography (Text type, style, etc.) you will use. It’s nice to create text in The Gimp because you can put in dropshadows that set the text out from the image. In The Gimp, you can also create text along a path if you need to curve it, as well as a ton of other features.
Once the graphic is created, do yourself a favor and save a multi-layer copy in case you need to makes edits. In The Gimp, you’ll need to save it as a .XCF file. THEN you can merge the layers together and save it as a .TIFF or .PNG file. I usually save images in this format because they are lossless. With JPEG files, every time you open the file, the image loses a little bit of its clarity (in laymen’s terms).

Ok, that’s it for today. Next time: Audio Recording and Editing.

Works Cited:

Meier, Dave. (2000). The Accelerated Learning Handbook. New York: McGraw Hill.

Clark, Ruth & Chopeta Lyons. (2004). Graphics for Learning: Proven Guidelines for Planning, Designing, and Evaluating Visuals in Training Materials. New York: Pfeiffer.

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