Visual Appeal: The Importance of Visual Elements in the Virtual Classroom.

August 9, 2016 10:00 by Dana Peters

We’ve all, undoubtedly, heard the expression, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” In my business, I’ve learned that that may actually be an understatement. The design and application of visual elements is critical to a successful virtual presentation or training session.

I would argue that the virtual classroom is a visual medium, more so even than a face-to-face classroom environment. Rather than looking at a physical presenter, participants in the virtual space are staring at a screen. It is important that what learners are visually taking in, strongly supports and enhances the instructional message.

Studies across industries have found that images, info-graphics, and videos are at least 500 percent more likely to be seen than words that deliver the exact same message, and it goes beyond just the use of images. Visual Design components like aesthetics, colors, and fonts can enhance and encourage engagement and retention.  As a side note, Tim Slade, an e-learning professional, author and speaker for Artisan E-Learning and E-Learning Uncovered, has a lot to say about this. I featured his perspective in a previous post.

Visual components in the virtual classroom to consider include the PowerPoint presentation, any electronic documents that are shared or displayed, video clips, image files, webcams, and the physical classroom layout (if customizable). We will cover the visual use of webcams in a future post, but today I’d like to focus mainly on the PowerPoint presentation, the primary visual tool for your classroom. The visual aesthetic of your pre-work materials, as well as any shared or displayed documents is important too, but serve mostly as secondary visual tools. The ideas I present ahead will apply to these secondary visuals as well.

First and foremost, I have a few key guidelines for you to consider when designing your virtual classroom slides:

Less is More

  • The words on your slides should be just enough to reinforce or support your discussion. It should not be a script of what you are planning to say.
  • Use whitespace. What’s NOT on the slide is just as important as what is. Whitespace helps draw attention and allows your participants to focus in on what is important.

Make it Interesting and Relevant

  • In the virtual classroom, slides are a key visual element, they should capture interest quickly.
  • Make sure images are on target and easy for participants to connect with. Are they relevant and suitable for the message you are trying to communicate?
  • Design slides that spark conversation and get participants thinking.

Be Clear and Consistent

  • Maintain focus, don’t cover several topics on one slide.
  • Don’t force the participant to read text packed slides, they can’t read & listen to what you, and others, are saying at the same time.

Let’s take a look at an example. This “before slide” demonstrates what NOT to do.


So where are the opportunities for improvement?

  1. There are way too many words on this slide. We’ve determined already that participants cannot read and listen at the same time.
  2. The image on the slide is too large, there’s no whitespace, it’s difficult to read, and there’s not a clear focal point.

Next, same slide, but designed using our key guidelines.


You’ll notice:

  1. The image is smaller, which makes it more relevant and less distracting.
  2. There’s more whitespace on the slide. We’ve also chosen to illustrate the “process” through movement in boxes rather than bullets. This allows the viewer ample space to comprehend.
  3. Additionally, the text that appears on the slide is both important and useful, it doesn’t repeat, but offers a highlight of the important concepts.

Visually, the second slide is more appealing. It captures the attention of the viewer, and encourages questions, discussion, and participation. Remember, in the virtual classroom, your participants will mostly be looking at the screen, at your presentation.

Virtual sessions often bring together participants from all over the world. While languages across the globe come with their own anecdotes, expressions, and idioms, when selected appropriately, images can be universal. What can be said in 300 words on a slide can be said with a single image and potentially be understood in virtually every language.

What can you share about your experiences with virtual presentations? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

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