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3 common eLearning mistakes (and what you can do to avoid them)

Combining text with visuals makes your content better. Things become easier to explain, more engaging for learners, and more interesting for you to as an eLearning author.

9 Aug 2016 by Content Editor

Text and visuals make up the bulk of eLearning content in the courses that we’ve come across at Coassemble. It’s common knowledge that combining text with visuals makes your content better - things become easier to explain, more engaging for learners, and more exciting for you to put together as an eLearning author.

But making really good content isn’t just about throwing text and graphics together without a second thought. First we’ll run through exactly why you should combine text and visuals, and then we’ll look at common eLearning mistakes that people make when they do so.

Why combining text and visuals works

Cognitive psychologist Richard Mayer states that people process text and graphics via different mental ‘channels’. For example, you could probably remember your first pet if you were given its name (verbally), or if you were shown a picture of it (visually). In other words, we can store information in two ways at once, helping us remember that information later. This is called dual coding.

Karl Klauer, another psychologist, ran a study where he gave people two tasks at the same time. Half of his participants had to complete a verbal task (remembering words on a screen) and a visual task (remembering the locations of colors on a screen) at the same time. The other half had to complete either two verbal tasks or two visual tasks. The result? People did much better when they had both a verbal and a visual task to complete than two of the same tasks. This shows the importance of dual coding - people can process text and images at the same time, and doing so helps them to remember information in two ways instead of one.

"People can process text and images at the same time, and doing so helps them to remember information in two ways instead of one"

Everyone knows that adding images increases engagement with learners - it makes content fun and interesting - but the idea of dual coding tells us that images also increase effectiveness.

How to combine text and visuals

Richard Mayer goes a step further than simply identifying the importance of combining words and text, however. He also has some advice on how to combine words and text. This advice is called the contiguity principle.

"Align words to corresponding graphics"

What this means is that words and visuals need to be presented together on the page, with as little separation as possible. Let’s look at two different approaches in Coassemble format:

The Hotspot Template above attempts to point out different regions of the brain. This tile follows the contiguity principle, as the image of the brain and its corresponding text are presented together, meaning that we can process both the visual and verbal information at the same time. The Hotspot Template is great for making sure you adhere to the contiguity principle, as it lets you tie your text to exact points on your images.

In contrast, the diagram below violates the contiguity principle:

Because the text is separated from the image of the brain, we’re forced to look first at the image, and then at the corresponding letter for each brain region. The result is a far more ineffective form of teaching (and learning). This is one of the most common eLearning mistakes that designers make...

Other Big eLearning mistakes (and how to fix them)

Mistake: Courses often present feedback on quiz questions on a separate page to the questions themselves, forcing the reader to switch back and forth between the question page and feedback page. This limits the effectiveness of feedback.
Instead: Present feedback alongside questions so your participants are able take feedback on board quickly and easily...

Mistake: A mistake designers often make is to fill a page with images and provide one caption underneath (or above) them, describing each one in turn (‘clockwise from top left…’ is a good example of this):

Instead: Try to avoid captioning multiple images at once - instead, split them up and describe each element in turn:

"Pair your captions with individual images using Coassemble Presentation Templates"

Mistake: As we saw in the brain diagrams, legends should be avoided as they separate text from visuals.
Instead: Try finding, or creating, visuals that directly link words with images - just about all Coassemble Presentation Templates provides an easy way to do this but the Hotspot Template is particularly useful for this juxtaposing images and labels - here's how:

The contiguity principle doesn’t just apply to text and images - make sure that when you pair narration with graphics, the graphics are presented at the same time as the commentary. Otherwise, your learners are having to piece together your narration and visuals in their head, to the detriment of their actual learning.

Start adhering to the contiguity principle and you'll be able to dodge the mistakes that most other eLearning designers overlook.

Jump into Coassemble and start trying out some of our pointers!

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