Imagery in e-learning: is a picture really worth a thousand words, and are they the right ones?

We’re working on a kind of storybook project this week, using photos to create montages of action, with speech bubbles and text panels. It’s a neat and simple presentation style, but it does mean you have to think quite carefully about which photos to use and how to pick your images. In this instance, we are doing a photo shoot with actors, where we have storyboarded the whole piece out, and will try to capture the key shots, but knowing which shots are ‘key’ can be a bit of a challenge.

How do you show ‘concern’ or ‘determination’, without resorting to serious photos of furrowed brows. How do you reinforce a piece of text with an appropriate image without simply falling into the trap of littering your work with stock images of people shaking hands and stylish computers in glass and steel offices. Why do we feel the need to break up weighty passages of text with aimless imagery when we feel no such need in novels or textbooks? Is it just that the quality of writing in our learning is not up to scratch, that we think we can get engagement by association with images? Or something else?

The right picture may be worth a thousand words, but the wrong one is a debased currency that buys us nothing. Quality comes from brevity, relevance and coherence of the narrative. Whilst imagery may support and enhance that, it won’t make a poor script good and it won’t create engagement in it’s own right.

And there is always the challenge that different people may read different things into different pictures. It’s bad enough trying to create common understanding with text, let alone pictures.

There is a whole visual language of design, we don’t need to master it, but we do need to be aware of it. if a piece of learning seems overly long or not engaging enough, it’s a safe bet that the best thing to do is shorten it or rewrite it. Adding images, no matter how nice they are, is no substitute for good copy editing and a decent story.

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About julianstodd

A learning and development professional specialising in e-learning and learning technology.
This entry was posted in Aesthetics, Art, Clarity, Creative, Drawing, Engagement, Graphic Design, Learning, Stories, Storytelling and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Imagery in e-learning: is a picture really worth a thousand words, and are they the right ones?

  1. Pingback: How to design great e-Learning: ask the right questions | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

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