How thoughtful photography can enhance the learning experience and offer a whole lot more.
It’s no secret that in an expanding technological world, e-learning is becoming an increasingly popular approach for learning and development. Engaging and thoughtful design of e-learning modules is therefore more important than ever.
In 1921, Frederick R Barnard used the phrase ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ in the first national trade magazine for advertising Printers Ink. The idea that graphics can tell a story as effectively as, if not more effectively than, a large amount of text is a widely accepted notion.
According to the Statistic Brain Research Group, in 2015 our current attention span is 8.25 seconds – a dramatic decline since 2000 when it was 12 seconds. In addition, statistics show that people only read half the content on websites of around 100 words[i]. Clearly modern learners require faster access to information. In this regard, strategic inclusion of photography aligns to our modern needs and gives learners an alternative to laboriously trawling through swathes of text.
Photography certainly has a lot of power as a design asset for learning; however, problems can arise with incorrect application. When adding photographs into e-learning courses, it’s crucial that they are relevant to the goals of the instruction. Photos should support or enhance the learning, or inform the learner of other important directives relevant to the content or client’s desires. The consequence of getting this wrong is to disengage or confuse the learner with ambiguous content.
In her article about graphics for e-learning, Ruth Colvin Clark outlines seven different graphical types used in e-learning modules[ii]. One of these types, decorative, describes adding visuals that serve aesthetic or humourous purposes to maintain user engagement without enhancing the message. While photography is often used in a decorative way, it is even more powerful when compiled in a thought-out sequence to convey information. Roland Barthes named this concept ‘syntax’[iii].
To present an example of syntax, Company X is building an e-learning course for their new purchasing system, while also wanting to reinforce the company values on supporting a diverse workforce. Company X specifically uses photographs of employees from a variety of different backgrounds throughout the course to reinforce this message. In isolation, the photographs appear purely decorative; however, a clear meaning emerges when they are viewed as a sequence. For further reading on syntax, refer to Barthes’s essay titled ‘The Photographic Message’.
Photography is an engaging and powerful tool for e-learning designers and even the most seemingly insignificant inclusion of a photo can alter a learner’s perception of an organisation and their ability to absorb instructional content. Once designers understand their audience, clients and instructional content, choosing appropriate photography becomes a whole lot easier.
[i] Statistic Brain Research Institute – Attention Span & Internet Browsing Statistics http://www.statisticbrain.com/attention-span-statistics/
[ii] Clark, Ruth Colvin – E-learning and the science of instruction. San Francisco Pfeiffer, 2008.
Article access: http://www.clarktraining.com/content/articles/MoreThanEyeCandy_part1.pdf – pg. 5
[iii] Barthes, Roland – Image, Music, Text. London UK Fontana, 1977 https://rosswolfe.files.wordpress.com/2015/04/roland-barthes-image-music-text.pdf – pg. 24