7 Tips To Use Visual Metaphors In eLearning

7 Tips To Use Visual Metaphors In eLearning
Summary: Metaphors are a powerful tool all on their own. However, adding visuals into the mix can make them an amazing eLearning resource. In this article, I will share 7 tips on how to use visual metaphors in eLearning, regardless of your subject matter or target audience.

How To Use Visual Metaphors In eLearning

A picture of the Earth melting would probably make you immediately think of global warming, a house sitting in the middle of outstretched palms makes you think of safety and security, while someone holding a lightbulb represents a brilliant thought, having a “lightbulb” moment; these are all examples of visual metaphors. They are images that represent a relationship between two concept that are usually unrelated, or they simply symbolize a complex idea. Visual metaphors are used in marketing on a regular basis, but they can also transform eLearning subject matter into engaging and emotionally compelling content. In this article, I’ll share 7 ways to achieve this.

  1. Start with a brainstorming chart.
    When learners see your visual metaphors in eLearning a specific set of words should automatically pop into their minds. In other words, they should not spend time analyzing the image trying to decipher what symbolizes. To avoid this, think about the words or ideas that you want to convey even before you select the images. In fact, create a brainstorming chart with separate columns, one for the core concept and one for the possible keywords or metaphorical ideas. For example, if you are trying to symbolize knowledge acquisition, the word “unlock” might go into the second column as a keyword. From there, the natural visual metaphor would be a lock or key.
  2. Make it emotionally relatable.
    Visual metaphors in eLearning should be anything but dry and dull. As a matter of fact, they should be one of the most emotionally compelling elements of your eLearning course. Every image you choose must grab the learners’ attention and make them reflect upon the ideas or concepts. Essentially, that one image should be so compelling that it sticks with them long after they have completed the eLearning course. The main goal of a visual metaphor in eLearning is to enhance knowledge retention, and create an emotional connection with your learners. The only way to achieve this is to make it stand out from the crowd of other images they have seen.
  3. Keep it simple.
    With that being said, the visual cues you choose should not be cluttered or complicated. Remember, the point of a visual metaphor in eLearning is to simplify concept ideas. If you include a photo that has an abundance of background imagery or abstract ideas that have absolutely no connection to the eLearning content, this will only confuse and distract learners from the key takeaways. For example, a stock image that features a crowd of people or objects in the background may force the learner to lose sight of the main focal point of the picture. They simply won’t know where to direct their attention. So, make sure the symbolic image is the primary focus of your eLearning content to prevent it from getting lost in the shuffle.
  4. Stay on-topic.
    You should never include an image just for the sake of aesthetic appeal. The same rule applies to adding a visual metaphor in eLearning just to increase the online course’s “wow” factor. Sure, a picture of a melting planet may be shocking enough to get your learners talking, but they won’t be talking about the subject matter. Instead, they will be wondering why you included an environmental visual metaphor in a customer service training module, or any other module that is totally unrelated to global warming. Your visual metaphor in eLearning must always be relevant to the topic.
  5. Achieve maximum effect with a slow reveal.
    Visual metaphors in eLearning don’t have to be static images on the screen. In fact, you can transform them into interactive mini-presentations with simple image editing and video creation tools. For example, utilize Windows Movie Maker or any other free video publishing platform to zoom in or out, pan left or right, and even add background music to accompany your image. These tools can also be used to slowly reveal your visual metaphor to the learner bit-by-bit for dramatic effect. For instance, if the attention-grabbing element within your image is located in the bottom right corner of the photo, you can pan down from the top-left hand corner to gradually reveal the compelling imagery.
  6. Put your lateral thinking cap on.
    Though it’s wise to keep your images relevant and instantly recognizable, you can still get a bit abstract when designing your visual metaphors in eLearning; just don’t take it too far off-topic, of course. Laterally thinking about the key idea can allow you to come up with a creative take on the subject matter, such as using multiple images to center on different traits of the subject matter. This allows you to utilize a wide range of keywords that convey the information and ideas you want to highlight.
  7. Use visual metaphors wisely.
    The key to using visual metaphors in eLearning is to use them in moderation. If you include a symbolic image on every page, then it tends to lose its attention-grabbing effect. Your learners will simply grow accustomed to seeing them scattered throughout the eLearning course, instead of being surprised by their presence. Thus, they aren’t likely to remember them or retain the subject matter associated with them.

If used properly, visual metaphors in eLearning have the power to turn any online course into an emotionally-connected, relevant, and entertaining eLearning experience. Use these 7 tips to integrate them into your next eLearning course and take learner immersion and interactivity to a whole new level.

Looking for some tips that can help you improve the visual design of your eLearning courses? Read the article Top 5 Tips For Visual Design In eLearning to discover new ways that you can create an eye-catching and engaging eLearning experience for your online learners.