As the old saw goes, a picture’s worth a thousand words. But this is only true in training as long as the pictures are used effectively. In today’s Advisor we’re getting some expert advice on using training visuals for maximum effect.
Trainers have a tendency to avoid using pictures in training materials, but “all of the research on learning with pictures indicates that pictures used in combination with words create better learning,” says Jack Massa, owner of Guidance Communications, Inc.
Massa uses a broad definition of “pictures” to include “any visual that is meant to represent something—either concrete or abstract,” everything from high-definition stock photos to diagrams to simple line drawings.
Pictures must be selected carefully, Massa says. The most common mistake in this area is “justifying the use of a picture that sort of represents the idea, using that picture for ‘decoration,’ and thinking that’s enough,” he says. Instead, pictures should support the learning content and be used for “education.” Pictures used solely for decoration can be distracting, he says.
Another common mistake is “not designing with the visuals in mind.” Just as trainers think about how they are going to express a concept in words, they also need to decide how they will “communicate ideas visually,” he says.
Massa offers some additional advice to consider when selecting pictures.
First, decide which types of pictures are best suited to the training content. For example, a flowchart is effective when training on a new process or procedure.
Second, “use good graphical design principles.” That is, look for consistency in the visual presentation, and don’t use different styles of clip art, he says.
Third, “leave out all of the extraneous information,” Massa suggests. Keep drawings and diagrams simple and only include text that supports learning. He recommends using pictures in all training materials.
“The one exception might be brief, knowledge base articles,” such as tips of only a few words that are delivered on mobile devices. “If you are creating short knowledge base articles or tips documents designed to answer a single question quickly, then a picture might not be necessary or worth the trouble,” he says. “But for knowledge base articles that are longer, a picture will often still be useful to show a process or give an overview.”