Instructional Design Basics


Doing More than Infographics

* This post originally appeared in eLearningIndustry

There has been a flood of articles and postings covering infographics—the science behind them, how to create them, free tools to use and many other topics. This is great as infographics represent a powerful way to present content, but all of this has overshadowed one key concern with them:



This is fine if your goal is simple awareness, but if you want to change behavior, then you need to do more.

Infographics Don’t Have to be Static Pages

In this regard, it’s hard to ignore the literature on the importance practice, feedback and repetition plays in learning. These elements help ensure that your students are able to process and internalize your information.  Without them, it’s difficult for them to establish where they are, what they have learned and what improvements they need to make. By themselves, your normal infographics don’t address these needs—they are just static pages presenting quick bite-sized chunks of information.

Luckily you can create opportunities to add these elements by opening up your infographics—here you can give your students the opportunity to dig-in and play with your information.  Some strategies for this are:

Interactive Infographics

If your infographic is online, you can use animation, scrolling, links and other means to get users to interact with your content.  Creative use of this can create a Prezi like presentation for your content.  This is useful, as it allows you to create a linear flow to your content or establish a graphic organizer for it.  Each strategy will allow you to better highlight or tell the overarching story of your infographic.

Good examples of interactive online infographics can be seen on the How Search Works  and the Future of Car Sharing sites. As you look at these, keep in mind that your interactions don’t have to be limited to simple content links – here you can link to discussion board and forum features or initiate email, phone and video conferencing abilities.

Additionally these abilities don’t have to be limited to online infographics. Software apps like Layar, Aurasma, Clickable Paper and QR Code readers will allow you to embed additional content into your posters, manuals and other hardcopy materials.  Once embedded, students can use their mobile devices to interact with your infographic.

Expanding Your Infographic

Infographics simplify your content by consolidating your information into numbers, facts and other small chunks of information. However, finding ways to illustrate the aggregate details of your infographics can help students internalize your content. Strategies for this include:

1.     Qualitative Measures
Just highlighting a few stories from the data may be enough to give students the repetition that they need. In this regard, stories can be particularly powerful in highlighting key concepts and elements within your content. In addition faces, names and events are often more impactful than simple numbers and facts.

2.     Clocks and Counters
The numbers and facts associated with your infographics are often large and as such may be difficult for your students to realize or fully grasp. To help them make sense of your content you can represent these numbers with clocks and counters. Here saying a company is losing $5 million a year may not have the same impact as a counter showing that money quickly adding up. Some ideas on using these objects can be found on the Running on Empty post.

3.     Data visualization
Incorporating sorting, filtering and other reporting abilities to your infographic data is another useful strategy. These features give your students the ability to focus in on key elements and attributes within your content.  These activities require database connections and advance programming, but can be worth the extra effort.

The power of this can be seen with the Liveplasma site. This data visualization allows you to search for music, books and movies and will show you how your search connects to other similar items.  So searching for the Pixies will show you how their style relates to other bands—besides showing the visual connection, users can play samples to better highlight each band’s style characteristics.

Giving your students opportunities to interact with your content will provide them with the practice, feedback and repetition that they need to internalize your information.  In addition, these activities can expand your content options.    

Increasing Your Content Options

In this regard, infographics are well suited for conceptual content objectives as they allow you to highlight the key elements and attributes of that content. Attitudinal, interpersonal and others content objectives; however, don’t realize similar benefits.  Using the above strategies to open up your infographic data though will allow you to meet the unique needs for these other objectives.  For instance, creating interactive infographics can allow you to link to videos that highlight your procedural and interpersonal content needs.  In addition, the data visualization and qualitative measures can allow you to hit your attitudinal content needs.  Here numbers and facts might be easy to dismiss, but faces, names and stories have power—great examples of this can be seen at the People Killed Since Newton and US Gun Deaths sites.

Do More

Creating good infographics is a challenging activity—here  you have develop useful graphic metaphors, use appropriate fonts, maximize your whitespace and confront variety of other design considerations. Meeting each requirement takes skill and time, so don’t waste this time and effort by just creating an infodump. Do more.


1000 Words

The other day I found the formula used to determine the exact number of words a picture is equal to and I must say those math guys are really ingenious:

Image/Word Conversion Formula

Ok so that formula may not be true but most of us are familiar with the saying, “an image is worth a thousand words.” And this is something we can probably relate to, that is, most of us have been in an instance where someone was trying to explain something and we didn’t “get it,” until they drew us a picture.

Visuals like pictures, images and drawings are important to include in your courses because they provide students with another way to internalize your information.  This is useful in that some students prefer a visual learning style—in order to “get it” they need to “see it.”

In addition, having multiple inputs (text, images, audio) allows your students the ability to process your information on multiple levels. These multiple inputs will allow them to form a stronger connection to the content when they store the information into long term memory. And a strong connection here will make it easier for them to retrieve that information when they need to use it.

So in saying this we should expect to see a lot of images in online courses. However, this isn’t the norm, rather a lot of courseware tends to be text heavy and only uses the occasional image.

Rules to Follow with Your Images

Some of this is good as there are certain rules you should follow when considering images in your course.  These rules are important as images can interfere with your users ability to learn content. A few simple rules to follow are:

Don’t Obscure Presentation Text
To ensure readability you should size and position your images so that they don’t cover up text in your course. And if you are using an image as a background make sure that your text has a high degree of contrast with it so that it can be read easily.

Use Professional Images
A poorly created image can reflect negatively on your course. To avoid this problem you should use professionally created images.  This may seem like a big limitation; however, you have a large selection of free images you can use at your fingertips.  Microsoft Word and PowerPoint have a large selection of Clipart and Photographs you can use. In addition there are several websites that offer access to free/cheap images you can use.

Support Presentation Styles
Your images should compliment your course design.  Colors that clash will make your pages hard to read and make your course unpleasant to the eye.

To support this need, find a theme or style that fits with your course design and use it consistently.  Consistent use is important, as random images can be a distraction.

Support the Slide Content
Your audience may get confused if your visuals don’t match your course content.  Ensure that your images support the ideas presented in your course.  Here your images should supplement or expand on the content presented.  This is important, as you don’t want to make it hard for your users to internalize your information. Random images can distract their attention—this is bad, as their attention should be focused on meaningful content.

Tricks and Tips With Images

When used correctly, visuals can help your audience internalize the information you are presenting.  Some tips and trick I’ve found over the years with images include the following:

Use Your ClipArt
As I mentioned earlier you have a large selection of ClipArt and Photographs available to you through Microsoft Office. The great thing about these images is that you can edit them to fit your needs.  Here you can use a graphic editor like Photoshop to edit any photographs or you can edit specific ClipArt files directly.

With ClipArt you have the ability to ungroup the objects within a file and edit each piece individually.  You can resize; change colors; delete and add items; and change the orientation of the objects.  With a little work and imagination you can create some nice graphics for your courses.

For instance click on the following links to see some of things you can do here:

Original ClipArt Files
Revised ClipArt File

While working with ClipArt, select files with similar styles—you need images with similar colors and forms.  This is necessary in order to keep a consistent theme and look within your program.

Don’t Forget Tables
Just because tables, flowcharts and graphs are not created with graphic editing software doesn’t mean that they are not considered visuals.  These items can be powerful images and will act as graphic organizers of your content—don’t forget to use them.

Quote Your Content
It may not make sense that you can break up text and or add a nice visual by adding more text to your course, but that is exactly what you can do with pullquotes.  With this technique you can highlight key information, facts/figures, or an interesting piece of content.

To use these effectively you should change your pullquote text formatting and play with the page whitespace. Adding a graphic to act as a background can add an interesting effect to your pullquotes.

Use Simple Filters and Tools
Many graphic editors have simple filters and tools you can use to add specific effects to your photographs.  Some of these like zoom, flashlight, crop and blur can change the emotional effect of your images.

For instance look at the following images and think about what each says:

Original File

Make Your Images Interactive
The great thing about online content is that you are not limited to static content.  With images you can add additional layers to them by making them interactive. Here you can have your users click on your images to trigger certain effects.

Doing this well will make your content more meaningful and engaging to your students.  With relative ease you can use show/hides, pop outs, animations, and other effects to create great menu structures and discovery interactions within you courseware.

Design Your Images for Your Needs
With online content you have a limited amount of space to work with, as you don’t want to force users to scroll a lot.  This can be a problem when you want to use a large detailed image.

Fortunately there are additional effects you can add to your images to address this issue. Panning and Zoom tools will allow you to scale your images down to a manageable size while also allowing your users access to the needed detail.

The following links will show you some of the interactive and sizing effects you can add to your images:

Zoom # 1
Zoom #2
Zoom #3

That’s Cool but How Do I Do That

Editing your images and adding effects can take some specialized skills and software. Fortunately resources like the CLL and Media Services are available to you. With our help, you should be able to develop appropriate images for your courses.

Or if you want to go it alone there are many great tutorials sites for learning graphic editing skills as well as free graphic editing software.  The interactive component might be a little bit more complex so you may need to reach out to that high school kid that lives down the block.

Regardless of how you get them, you should include visuals in your courseware—after all each image is worth 1000 words.