Tips On How To Use The 6 Laws of Perception in eLearning

How To Use The 6 Laws of Perception in eLearning
Summary: In this article, I'll highlight the 6 Laws of Perception, also known as the Principles of Grouping (or Gestalt Laws of Grouping), and show you how to use each one of them in your eLearning course strategy. Regardless of the subject matter, the target audience, or the eLearning objectives, these Laws of Perception can help you to design highly effective eLearning courses.

How To Use The 6 Laws of Perception in eLearning

The Gestalt Theory is based upon the idea that our eyes perceive things as a whole, before recognizing individual elements. In essence, learners will first look at the big picture, and then they will move onto the details that collectively create this big picture. This allows our brains to see organization and logic in even the most complex concepts, so that we can more effectively comprehend and retain important information. The Principles of Grouping (or Gestalt Laws of Grouping) consists of 6 primary Laws of Perception that all eLearning professionals can use to create powerful and memorable eLearning experiences.

  1. Law of Similarity: Things that have a similar appearance will be grouped together.
    There are two important considerations to bear in mind when applying this law in eLearning settings. Firstly, eLearning professionals will want to ensure that concepts that belong in the same group, such as those that are part of a sub-topic within the module, have a similar appearance. For example, if you are creating a page that lists the attributes of three distinct groups, you can use blue font for one list of attributes, red for another, and purple for the last. This will help learners to differentiate between each group and link the appropriate attributes to their respective groups. This brings us to the second consideration for the law of similarity, which is contrast. Since learners will automatically group together items with a similar appearance, avoid using the same type of graphics, fonts, or colors for items that aren't supposed to be related. For instance, if you create a series of modules that cover different topics but all have the same aesthetic theme, then the learners may blur the concepts of each module together, ultimately leading to confusion.
  2.  Law of Proximity: Elements close to each other are considered to be relevant or connected to one another.
    This is yet another law that ties into the fact that simplicity is key. Since learners tend to see connections between items that are close in proximity to each other, you will want to be careful about the placement of unrelated ideas or concepts. Leave plenty of white space between items that you don't want to be grouped together, given that the learner's mind will automatically try to form some kind of connection, which will typically lead to a misunderstanding of the core concepts. On the other hand, if you want to strengthen the connection between ideas and want to emphasize them to avoid any confusion, placing them close together is recommended. Also, if you want to test the learners’ knowledge or understanding of the concept, you can place items in close proximity to one another and examine which conclusions are drawn. For example, you can group four images together on the page and then ask them how each of the items is related or what similarities they share. For this law, there is yet another application. You can create a visual hierarchy by placing items close together higher on the page, as the law also applies to the page layout itself. For example, if you are trying to convey a sense of immediacy for a particular concept or idea, such as one that is a key part of the learning goal or must be learned right away, then you can group these ideas near the top of the screen and use a different font type or color to make it stand out from the others.
  3. Law of Simplicity: Images that may be complex or vague are viewed in the simplest of terms.
    The Law of Simplicity is also known as the Law of Pragnanz. To apply this law in your eLearning course, you'll want to keep things simple and straightforward. Avoid adding images that are irrelevant or creating pages that are chaotic and cluttered. It's important to remember that learners will be viewing the entire page as a whole, rather than the sum of its parts. In essence, our minds crave simplicity. They don't want to have to process more information than what is really necessary. This also ties into cognitive overload, in that the brain can only accept certain amount of information before it begins to forget the key ideas or concepts. When using graphics, keep things basic and include only what is absolutely necessary. When creating text, make sentences concise and avoid lengthy paragraphs.
  4. Law of Closure: The mind will fill in missing pieces of information based upon past experiences and already acquired knowledge.
    This law also stipulates that items close together may be part of a larger entity, because our mind craves completion. So, our brain, rather than leave an image or concept incomplete, will naturally fill in the blanks in order to develop the whole picture. You'll want to exercise caution when using this law, however, as there is always a chance that the mind may become confused or misconstrue by incomplete images or concepts. For example, if you are utilizing an image that some may not be familiar with, then he/she won't have the ability to tap into their already existing knowledge base in order to fill in the gaps.
  5. Law of Common Fate: When visual elements are all moving in the same direction at the same rate, our minds automatically assume that they are part of the same origin or stimulus.
    This law stipulates that when a learner sees a group of objects moving in one particular direction together, they will perceive these objects as a collective group with similarities. To use this law in your eLearning course strategy, you can draw attention to key ideas, tips, or lesson points by making them moving objects, such as a pop up dialogue box, or create slide out menus on the page to highlight the sub-topics of a particular subject. This creates an automatic association between ideas or objects.
  6. Law of Good Continuation: Even if two or more objects intersect, our minds will still see them as uninterrupted and different objects that do not share a stimulus.
    According to this law, learners will typically group together shapes or objects that appear to moving in the same direction, but shapes or objects that appear to be establishing a change in direction tend be seen as different items. To utilize this law in your eLearning course, it's important to insure that objects are aligned in such a way that they communicate relatedness or highlight differences. For example, if you want to stress the fact that several words or shapes share a common bond, then you can place them in a linear arrangement on the page so that learners are able to see that they are connected.

When designing your next eLearning deliverable, put these 6 Laws of Perception in eLearning to good use in order to help your learners achieve their learning goals. Hopefully, this guide has given you some insight into how to create eLearning experiences that steer clear of cognitive overload and boost knowledge retention.

Do you want to take a journey into the Instructional Design Models and Theories? If so, then our series of articles Instructional Design Models and Theories offer you an in depth look at the Instructional Design Models and Theories.

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  • Principles of grouping
  • Goldstein, E. Bruce (2009). "Perceiving Objects and Scenes § The Gestalt Approach to Object Perception". Sensation and perception (8th ed.). Cengage Learning. ISBN 978-0-495-60149-4.
  • Todorovic, Dejan (2008). "Gestalt principles". Scholarpedia 3 (12): 5345. doi:10.4249/scholarpedia.5345
  • Banerjee, J. C. (1994). "Gestalt Theory of Perception". Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Psychological Terms. M.D. Publications Pvt. Ltd. pp. 107–109. ISBN 978-81-85880-28-0.
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