Using Imagery In Storytelling Is More Than Important For Learners
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Why It Is Vital To Consider Using Imagery In Storytelling

The telling of a story lies deep in the social behavior of human groups. Stories are used to teach behavior, skills and to question the morals within the community that the story exists in. The earliest storytellers probably drew crude images with gestures and grunting sounds to communicate their narrative. Over the centuries, technology has provided paper, printing, electronic storage, and the internet. As these technologies have evolved, the way we tell stories has changed with it and we may consider using imagery in storytelling more often for better results.

What has this to do with eLearning? There are numerous articles, books, and research papers about the benefits of storytelling within eLearning. The simplest experiment I do with people to explain the benefits of storytelling is this—close your eyes and imagine your favorite book as a child, then answer the following questions:

  • What was the book about?
  • What did the characters look like?
  • How did you feel when reading the book?

Now open your eyes and tell me what the summary of this article said. Most people will be able to recall a book from 20 years ago but not a short paragraph from 20 minutes ago. Stories are a vehicle for conveying information in an easily absorbable manner and so make the perfect structure for creating an eLearning course.

There are various ways of storytelling. The developments in technology provide many ways to transmit a story, but fundamentally there are 2 main ways: words (verbal or written) and images—often within eLearning the 2 are combined. Images within eLearning are overlooked with the focus being placed on the written/verbal, however, the images form an integral part of the storytelling within eLearning.

An image is essentially a memory or idea of an object or experience recorded by a person either by photography or by hand (drawing both digitally and analog). When looking at a page within an eLearning course the eye will look to the image first and then the text, forming associations between the image and text as they go. Creating a story image narrative will help create an overall strong story that learners will absorb and translate into their reality.

How To Use Images Within Your Course

Placing images into a course can often be tricky, especially if you don't have anyone to create custom graphics for you. Here are some simple tips to consider when selecting imagery to support your eLearning story.

Make Your Images Relatable

Images are more readable when they're easily recognized. By allowing a learner to relate to an image they are able to recall a common experience and place it within their own reality. Often, we are tempted to use staged stock imagery of people in an office or performing health and safety checks. However, these images are often unrelatable to your learners, as the office is not familiar or the equipment doesn't look the same. Try to use photographs from your learners' environment—this will help them recognize what they are looking at and place the learning into reality.

Don't Stereotype Your Images

This lines in closely with the first point. A stereotype is defined as an idea or character that is standardized in a conventional form, without individuality. Avoid using stereotypical images such as the woman secretary or the male builder. Stereotyping simplifies and categories an inaccurate representation of people and can be harmful to your story by switching a learner off or worse offending them. However, your characters need to build a familiarity with your learners, unlike film you do not have the time to develop a character and their occupation. The image must settle the 'who are they?' question instantly. With this in mind, it is important to use the characteristics of a character that a learner would accept. For example, a police person—would be wearing a police uniform.

Use Good Quality

The quality of your image is just as important as the image itself, it can be tempting to quickly google an image, reshape it, and put it into a course. However, this process will cheapen the course and instantly disengage a learner. All the learner will remember were the terrible graphics—not the content. Learners are used to experiencing HD images now and expect the same from their eLearning. There are free HD royalty free stock images such as Pexels or you can buy a subscription to other stock image sites which will allow you to use high-quality images. Also make sure to spend some time learning how to scale images in ratio, crop and add filters—whether that be in Photoshop or Paint.

Use Characters Who Resemble Animals

This is more for if you have someone able to draw characters to place within a course but keep with me whilst I explain. Think back to any children's film or book you have seen—ever noticed how a wise person looks similar to an owl? Or a villain looks like a snake? There is a belief that modern-day humans still retain instincts developed as primordial creatures. Such as the recognition of a dangerous person/animals or responses to threatening postures are residual memories of a primitive existence. By using characters who resemble animals, the storyteller can capitalize on that residue of human primordial experience to personify their characters quickly and develop the narrative.

Final Thought

Figuring out what images to use is largely about knowing your learner and tailoring the story to them and their experiences. Often as eLearning developers, we can be removed from our learners and so don't fully understand their motivations and environment. Try to spend some time sitting with them to fully understand how they visualize the environment around themselves.

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