Tag: visual communication

ID and E-Learning Links (8/21/16)

Instructional Design and E-Learning Links

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Book Review: Visual Design Solutions

Connie Malamed’s new book Visual Design Solutions: Principles and Creative Inspiration for Learning Professionals is written specifically for learning professionals. As instructional designers, we often communicate visually as well as with text, audio, and other media. Many of us (myself included) don’t feel as strong about our graphic design skills as about our other instructional design skills. This book teaches many of the same foundational principles as other design books (including Connie’s first book, Visual Language for Designers), but the examples and applications are all geared towards learning. If you’ve read visual design concepts elsewhere but struggled to apply them to your own learning design, this book is written for you.

Visual Design Solutions

Visual Design Solutions is divided into four major parts, each with multiple chapters:

  1. The Big Ideas (thinking and working like a designer)
  2. Building Blocks of Design (space and layouts, selecting images, and typography)
  3. Power Principles (color, visual hierarchy, unified design, contrast, and grouping)
  4. Practicing Design (directing attention, adding excitement, enhancing meaning, telling stories, and displaying data)

Each chapter is relatively short and filled with examples (as a visual design book should be). If you have read other books or articles on visual design, a fair amount of this will be familiar to you. Even someone with no background in graphic design (which, let’s face it, is most of us in the e-learning world) will be able to understand the ideas. I found myself repeatedly thinking, “Oh! I could apply this in my [Acme Widgets] course!” or “Why didn’t I ever see that before?”

In addition to the principles and examples, I appreciated how Connie explained why you might choose one style over another. For example, she says, “Use a symmetrical layout to achieve a restful and static design; use an asymmetrical layout for one that is more dynamic.”

What I Learned

I had a number of takeaways from the book, but here are two big ideas I’m still thinking about after finishing the book.

Chapter 4: Organizing Graphic Space included specific ideas on layouts for e-learning. This is one of the areas where I know I could do better, and the examples helped me figure out why I’m not always happy with my own layouts. I need to be more consistent about using a grid and guides to align content. Using a grid means I can keep everything aligned and unified across multiple screens. That means content like titles is where learners expect on each screen so they don’t have to waste brainpower trying to find the title instead of learning. Grids don’t have to be symmetrical; Connie shows multiple examples of grid-based layouts that aren’t just centering everything on the page. Connie also says, “In course design, we are always looking for ways to engage the learner. One way is through the element of surprise, which you can achieve through visual design. When it makes sense instructionally, such as to emphasize a key point or to show drama in a story, don’t hesitate to break the grid and use a wildly different approach, like placing elements on a diagonal orientation.”

Grid layout diagram

Chapter 15: Tell Stories With Visuals was especially interesting to me because I use storytelling techniques so often in my courses. I do almost all of my storytelling with words though, and this chapter challenged me to think about ways I could enhance my stories with better visuals. Some of the advice here was very concrete, such as thinking about how to lay out panels so it’s clear to learners which way to read. If your panels and gutters are all the same size, they line up in a grid and it’s harder to know if you should read vertically or horizontally first. Using narrow vertical gutters and wide horizontal gutters, as well as varying the widths of panels, makes the flow of reading clearer. This is a really simple idea, but it makes perfect sense. It’s something I can easily apply.

Varying the size of panels in each row helps readers move from left to right before top to bottom.

A Few Mild Criticisms

I have an electronic version of the book, and I think I would have enjoyed a print version more. I tend to buy physical books for my reference texts (as this book will be). Some of that is personal preference, but I think with such a visual book it might be more effective to see it printed on the page. Then again, these examples are designed for viewing on screens. If you’re normally a Kindle person, don’t let this stop you, but if you’re not sure, I’d go with the print version. (Update: Because Connie is a wonderful, generous person, she shipped me a physical copy. The book is beautiful in print, and it strengthened my view that this book is best when you can physically hold it.)

Because the book contains so many images, sometimes the images are on a different page than the text describing the concept. In the physical copy, it’s easier for me to flip back and forth between pages, plus you’re looking at two pages at once instead of one.

The book contains a lot of jargon. It’s necessary to have the specific words to discuss these issues and not be haphazard in design, so I know learning the words is important. All of the terminology is explained clearly. However, in a few places in the book, there’s just so much vocabulary at once that I found myself reading very slowly and rereading to understand it all. I don’t think that’s a problem with Connie’s writing so much as just an acknowledgement that visual design is a huge field with its own language. If you haven’t done much reading or studying in visual design previously, you may find you can really only absorb one or two chapters at a time. Spacing it out is likely more effective for learning it all than trying to read it all in one sitting anyway.

I kind of wish there was a concluding chapter at the end. I got to the end of the last chapter and literally said, “Wait, was that it?” A short recap would have helped remind me of all the principles, even if it was mostly restating the key takeaways from the end of each chapter.

Recommendation: Buy It!

Overall, I found Visual Design Solutions very helpful, and I will be coming back to it and rereading it again in the future. I recommend it for any instructional designer or e-learning developer who feels they could be stronger in visual design.

20+ More Books for Instructional Designers

In response to my list of 12+ Books for Instructional Designers, I received a lot of great suggestions for further reading. My “to read” list is now quite long, but I’m slowly making my way through these suggestions. Here are 20+ more books suggested by others.

Instructional Design and Learning DesignStack of books

ISD From the Ground Up: A No-Nonsense Approach to Instructional Design by Chuck Hodell was suggested by Phrodeo, who is using it as a textbook in a course she’s taking.

Marina Arshavskiy’s Instructional Design for ELearning was recommended by another student, Alisa, who says “I will definitely keep using it after I graduate.”

Design Alchemy: Author Roderick Sims suggested that I include “texts/resources that address Learning Design and not just Instructional Design” such as his own book.

Streamlined ID: A Practical Guide to Instructional Design: Miriam Larson suggested her book, co-authored with Barbara Lockee. This book was positively reviewed in Education Review.

E-Learning and Blended Learning

Although I have several of Michael Allen’s books, I haven’t read Leaving ADDIE for SAM yet. Several people recommended that (including some who said they wished their organizations would pay more attention to it and move to a more agile approach).

William Horton’s e-Learning by Design is Nahla Anwer Aly’s favorite book in the field. I read it a number of years ago. Although I don’t refer back to it as often as some of my other books, it’s a strong selection, especially for those early in their careers.

Patti Shank’s The Online Learning Idea Book, Volume 1 and Volume Two: Proven Ways to Enhance Technology-Based and Blended Learning have lots of inspiration. Even though it was published in 2007, I still pull out the first volume sometimes when I’m stuck for ideas.


Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning is geared more towards teachers and professors or those interested in the psychology of how we learn rather than specifically aimed at instructional designers. The authors have done an amazing job of reviewing, summarizing, and organizing dozens of studies about how we learn. As instructional designers, we often work hard to make learning easier, but the research shows that “desirable difficulties” can actually increase learning. I’m a few chapters into this book currently, and I’ve already picked up a few new ideas. I do wish the book had some visuals to help explain the concepts. As an instructional designer, especially one who develops self-paced e-learning, you’ll need to reflect on your own about how to apply these ideas to your work. Most of the examples are from classrooms, either academic or corporate.

Richard Mayer’s Applying the Science of Learning was recommended by Clare Dygert, who says, “If you want to create e-learning that works the way a human brain wants it to work, read this book!”

Urban Myths about Learning and Education was just published in March. Will Thalheimer gave it a positive review. My one caution with this book is that Paul Kirschner is one of the authors, and he has shown some (in my opinion) irrational bias against discovery learning, project-based learning, and constructivism in the past. Based on Thalheimer’s review, it sounds like Kirschner is more nuanced in this book, noting situations where the methods he previously labeled as “failures” do, in fact, have benefits. (For a balanced review of Kirschner’s previous attack piece on constructivism, see Don Clark’s review five years after its publication.

Visual Design

Connie Malamed just published a new book, Visual Design Solutions. Cammy Bean recommends it for all of those of us who need to communicate visually in our e-learning but lack the formal training on how to do so. Cammy also says it can be helpful for IDs who work with graphic designers so you can communicate with those team members more effectively. Unlike a lot of visual design books out there, this is focused specifically on visual design for learning.

Connie’s previous book, Visual Language for Designers, was helpful to me in learning about the fundamentals of visual design. Jeffrey Dalto reminded me that I inadvertently forgot her first book from my initial list (sorry Connie!). Jeffrey’s review can be found at Creating Visuals for Training.

Performance Consulting

Analyzing Performance Problems: Or, You Really Oughta Wanna–How to Figure out Why People Aren’t Doing What They Should Be, and What to do About It was recommended by Mike Taylor, who also recommended the next selection.

Dana and Jim Robinson’s Performance Consulting was also recommended. Mike says neither of these books is very recent, but they have remained relevant.

Other Books

Joel Gendelman’s Consulting Basics was a critical resource for me when I made the leap from being an employee to being a freelance instructional designer. I regularly recommend this book to people who are just getting started in the freelance world or hoping to make the switch. The tips are very practical and concrete, and my own consulting agreements borrow heavily from the examples provided in this book.

Daniel Pink’s Drive explains three principles of motivation that go deeper than just rewards and punishments: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. More money won’t always motivate behavior change (in fact, sometimes it might be counterproductive). Helping people improve their skills can be even more motivating, and that’s certainly part of what we should be doing as instructional designers.

The Art of Explanation by Lee LeFever of Common Craft explains how to make information easier to understand. This was suggested by Luis Flores, who says, “As we create leaner and quicker learning experiences, being able to distill content is a skill that is indispensable.”

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die is about why some stories and ideas are memorable while others aren’t. Robert Beck says, “Its principles are ones that I often turn to for reminders of how to make learning more compelling and memorable.”

TED Talks Storytelling: 23 Storytelling Techniques from the Best TED Talks was also recommended by Robert Beck. He says, “If IDs keep in mind the elements of a powerful story and how to deliver a spellbinding presentation to an audience, they’ll likely design an effective training product.”

John Medina’s Brain Rules was Robert Beck’s third recommendation, and I’ve heard these principles mentioned by a number of others in the field. I’m a little cautious about neuroscience claims; I’m not sure that the research is as solid as it is sometimes conveyed. However, I know many people have gotten excited about Medina’s work.

The Essential Persona Lifecycle by Adlin and Pruitt was recommended by Ieva Swanson. I have seen examples of personas used effectively for different projects, including creating a learning portal. This isn’t an area I personally know much about, but I can see the value in exploring it further.

Your Suggestions

Even though I have now shared over 30 books, I’m sure I missed some great reads. Tell me your suggestions!

Creating Visual Stories That Resonate

These are my live blogged notes from the webinar Training Online: Creating Visual Stories That Resonate by Nancy Duarte. My side comments are in italics. Any errors, typos, and incomplete thoughts are mine, not Nancy’s. Check out Cammy Bean’s notes too.

She started with her personal story, told mostly with old photos on the slides and very little text

Story: likeable hero, encounters roadblocks, emerges transformed

Why are so many presentations bad? We use presentations to create reports–dense “slide-uments”

When you need to persuade, use a story

Every story should have a beginning, middle, and end, with a turning point to move between sections

The presenter is not the hero of the story: the audience is the hero. They are the ones who have the power and must decide to take action. You are the mentor (she showed Yoda on Luke’s back while talking about mentors)

Joseph Campbell story structure

  • Ordinary world
  • Call to adventure
  • Refusal of call
  • Meeting with the mentor–this is a turning point

Freytag’s dramatic story structure; has a shape.

She wondered if great presentations had a shape like this

  • What is
  • What could be (the gap between this and what is is the “call to adventure”)
  • Keep going back and forth between these two

An image of this shape is found in this summary of Duarte’s book

This shape can be used as an analysis tool She analyzed a 90-minute speech by Steve Jobs, who kept the audience riveted, laughing or clapping about every 30 seconds.

Jobs was passionate about his product and constantly marveled at it during the speech

STAR moment: Something They’ll Always Remember

Same kind of analysis for the I Have a Dream speech. Lots of pauses, more like poetry than a traditional speech. King had a rhythm to his speech.  Color coded analysis for the words: repetition; metaphor, visual words; familiar songs, scripture, literature; political references. He moved back and forth between what is and what could be at the phrase level at “I have a dream”; makes more excitement. Familiar references touch something that already resonates within the audience.

The stakes are higher now. It used to be that you could get away with crappy presentations because everyone else is crappy too. Now, there are books and best practices, and TED presentations set the bar higher. Twitter also sets the bar higher; the audience no longer has to suffer alone. They have a back channel and can revolt against a presenter. The audience can say cruel things. (example tweets from the disastrous #heweb09 keynote). Back channel can be good too; people may move to a good presentation they hear about on a back channel at a conference.

Don’t stay trapped in the roadblocks section of your own story. Push through and emerge transformed.

We need to find what we are passionate about to change the world.

Question: What do you do when you’re not fighting for human rights or a product that can’t be marveled at like the iphone?

Answer: some people really need to have passion and some don’t. Everyone needs to be passionate about something, but it may not be work related. People won’t invest in their communication skills if they aren’t passionate.

Question: How much time do we need to invest in our communication?

Answer: If you are given something you need to present in 3 days, it’s probably not high stakes. Categorize what is really important and what isn’t, and fight for the ones that are important. When you are launching your new 5-year vision, or making a big sale, you need to put a lot of time in.

Question: Going back to your “present in person” idea from the beginning, what about globally dispersed teams that don’t meet in person?

Answer: Plan and prepare. She stood up in front of pictures of people to practice so she would talk more like face to face in this online format. Your biggest competitor with virtual presentations is their inbox; if you aren’t more interesting than their inbox, they’ll be reading email. Think about getting their attention back. Break it into very small “Halloween candy size” bites to keep them engaged.

Question: You mentioned investing time in improving communications. What are ways people can invest in their skills?

Answer: Be a consumer of good information. You also need to practice it. They have workshops, other people do too–toastmasters

Question: Is there a time limit on keeping interest?

Answer: Depends on the speaker. Some can hold it for much longer. Emotionally charged content can engage people for longer.

Question: Who is your favorite storyteller?

Answer: Several favorites: Cheryl Sandberg (COO Facebook) is one

Question: Are there differences between people in how interested they are in stories? Are women more interested in stories than men?

Answer: Women may have a higher capacity for emotional content. There are stories as little anecdotes, overall themes, or story structure. You need to know your audience. Emotionally charged content may not work with biochemists. Everyone is human though, and everyone responds to story if it applies.

Question: How many slides should you use?

Answer: It depends. Keep one idea on a slide. If you have 5 ideas on a slide, the audience will read ahead and think you are slow. Slide count doesn’t really affect presentation length; if you click fast, you may have a lot of slides. This was about 75 slides for about 35 minutes of presentation.

Question: What do you do with SMEs who want to include everything in their presentation? How do you help them chunk content into smaller bits?

Answer: Slides are free. It’s not like you’re printing and more slides is more money to print. Sometimes a slide does need more information. They usually do printouts for dense information so they walk away with it rather than trying to cram it on a slide. Put a picture of the handout on the screen and tell people to look at the handout instead of looking at dense text on a slide.

Question: What is the greatest lesson you have learned from a webinar that didn’t go well?

Answer: Technology glitches. She had 25 people in the room, 200 online. It was distracting. She didn’t do a technical walkthrough first. Energy is really hard when you are the speaker and everyone else is muted. You have to keep your own energy very high.

Question: Back to the sailing analogy: how do we use the wind resistance idea to catch the audience’s attention?

Answer: The best way is to grab a few coworkers or the potential audience members. Let them think about ways people might resist. Get people who are comfortable being honest about resistance and reactions.

Question: How do your in person presentations differ from what you do in a webinar?

Answer: She really feeds on audience energy, but she tries to not have much gap. She describes things more visually when presenting online to make up for physical presence.

Question: How do you build this in written materials? Can we use this storytelling in emails or other communication?

Answer: Yes, this can work in other forms of persuasion. Her book resonate follows this form on every page, and then the book follows the form.

Question: Best practices for hybrid live/virtual audiences?

Answer: Make sure the technology works. Acknowledge that people who are calling in are humans too to make them not feel like they are outside looking in.