Using Static Images to Improve Learning
When choosing an image, many designers are under the assumption that more realistic and detailed pictures are the best. However, research shows that this is not the case. Using the Program of Systematic Evaluation, Francis Dwyer of Penn State University found that more complex images caused viewers to over-analyze the image and focus on unintended parts of the image. Sometimes complex images are ignored altogether in lieu of adjacent text. Dwyer also found that between color and black and white images in instructional materials, color was more effective.
Connie Malamed, author of Visual Language for Designers: Principles for Creating Graphics that People Understand, has written of her extensive research on low-fidelity (i.e. line drawings) versus high-fidelity (i.e. photographs) images to determine which type greater facilitates learning. Malamed lists several reasons why low-fidelity images are easier for the brain to process, including fewer distractions and quicker visual scanning. She suggests simplifying graphics for learning situations, but leaving enough details for viewers to fully discern the intent of the image.
In a study entitled Multimedia Learning: Are We Asking the Right Questions? by Richard E. Mayer, adding images to learning material was shown to improve learning comprehension by 50% when they were paired with relevant captions or audio. Mayer believes the key to good written instruction is to provide "explanative illustrations" which are a "series of two or more frames that show the state of each crucial part of the system at various points."
Tom Tullis gave a presentation at Ignite Boston 6 where he discussed whether or not people are drawn to pictures of faces on websites. The study found that people were definitely drawn to the faces, and if the faces were looking at something, the eye was also drawn to whatever the face was looking at it.
On the other hand, if the faces were positioned next to information that the participants were meant to draw out of the experiment, participants were less likely to find the information. Those that found the information took longer to do so. Participants were also more likely to feel like they had not found the right information and less likely to trust the accuracy of the information when it was paired with the image of the face. The researchers concluded that people had conditioned themselves to ignore or question anything that appeared even remotely ad-like. In contrast, the same researchers found in a similar experiment that if the faces helped to make the information easier to categorize or understand (for example, pairing age appropriate faces with information about different age groups), that participants focused on the faces and found their presence to be beneficial.
So Here's How You Should Apply This to Your eLearning
- Stay away from complex graphics.
- Pare down more realistic photo-like images to their basic elements.
- If you have a choice between a basic color image and the same image in black and white, choose the color image.
- If at all applicable, add relevant captions or audio to images to increase comprehension.
- Steer clear of using images of faces next to important course content. Use faces only when they directly apply to the content.
Click here for Part I of the Graphics Series, Dynamic or Static Images?
Click here for Part III of the Graphics Series, Recommended Free Image Sites.
Click here for Part IV of the Graphics Series, Easy Image Manipulation.
Click here for Part V of the Graphics Series, Tips for Making Your Own PowerPoint Graphics.
About the author: AJ George is IconLogic's lead Technical Writer and author of both "PowerPoint 2007: The Essentials" and "PowerPoint 2008 for the Macintosh: The Essentials." You can follow AJ on Twitter at http://twitter.com/andrayajgeorge.