An informative visual makes it easier for learners to understand and recall training content.
From the dawn of time until 2003, humankind produced five exabytes (5 quintillion bytes) of information. Today, we produce that much information every two days. In the era of big data and even bigger information overload, how can you help your learners digest the key information they need to make good decisions, improve performance, and acquire new digital skills? One way to make complex information easier to absorb is to incorporate infographics into your next training project.
What it is
During the past two years, Google searches for infographics have increased 800 percent. They are fast becoming the preferred way to access information online. Dictionary.com defines an infographic as “a visual image such as a chart or diagram used to represent information or data.”
I like to say that infographics tell a story primarily in pictures, minimizing the number of words and maximizing visual impact. But perhaps the best way to learn about infographics is to look at several examples. A quick Google search will reveal that there are infographics about every topic under the sun, including infographics about infographics.
Why it works
The brain receives information through our senses. Long before our ancestors acquired language, they communicated through pictures. Over time, our brains became hardwired to prefer visual information. Not only do we process images much faster than we can comprehend words, but we do it with much less effort.
Cognitive load is a term from neuroscience to describe the brain energy required for a particular task. The cognitive load required to read and understand a paragraph is much greater than the amount of brain effort required to produce the almost instant comprehension of an image.
In my practice, I help organizations apply neuroscience to learning. I often use an infographic to present a complicated process, represent features and benefits of a new product, or review key concepts. Infographics can be used almost anywhere in instructional design. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Pre-training priming. Before the training session begins, help participants get ready to learn by presenting a preview of the course in the form of a concise infographic. This technique is called “priming.” The brain will begin to search for prior learning to match the new information presented in the infographic, making it much easier to acquire new information during the training session.
Reinforcement posters. If you want people to remember what they learned in class, provide multiple opportunities for them to revisit the information in different formats. One way to help make training stick is to put up infographic posters in the training room or workplace, triggering instant recall of the subjects covered in the course.
Individual or group activity. Creating an infographic to summarize a lesson makes a great activity for individuals or small groups. Provide flipcharts and markers and let your participants make their own infographics.
The very act of designing the infographic forces the brain to organize new information and connect it to things it already knows. And the act of presenting or explaining the infographic to someone else helps the brain build an alternate pathway to the new information, making it easier to recall later.
PowerPoint alternative. We’ve all seen our share of boring training slides, so why not shake it up a bit? Prepare an infographic instead and you will find you need fewer words and less time to convey the same information.
Fill-in-the-blank infographics. Our brains don’t like incomplete stories; it’s another survival mechanism that we’ve developed. If your fellow strong is showing you how to prepare dinner, your brain gets hyper-focused on every step and alarms go off if something seems to be missing.
Use this survival mechanism to engage learners by giving them a partially completed infographic. As you go through the class, they will discover the information they need to fill in the blanks. While your learners are hanging on your every word to find the next piece of the infographic puzzle, their brains are already filing away the information for future retrieval.
Problem solving. When you present information about a problem in graphic form, you give your brain a new way to analyze and interpret the data. An effective activity for addressing real-life or role-play challenges is to ask participants to summarize the scenario in an infographic. Often participants will experience a flash of inspiration and find a solution or a pattern in the images conveyed in the infographic.
Design infographics for your training using these steps:
- Decide what story you are telling. Collect the data you want to convey first.
- Draw a preliminary sketch to serve as an outline. This step helps you visualize how the information will flow from one point to another in the finished infographic.
- Carve out a separate visual section for each key concept or fact. Use a short descriptive header or label to define the section.
- Build charts, graphs, tables, and simple images to represent your information.
- Add explanatory text, using as few words as possible. If your infographic needs to be read to be understood, you’ve missed the point.
- For the words you must use, have some fun with fonts and sizes. Your text can become a graphic element if you get creative. For example, if I’m designing an infographic on machine shop safety, I might put the word “danger” in big, bold, red letters.
- Choose a title that summarizes what is contained in the infographic.
- Add any resources, references, or footnotes to the bottom of your infographic. Your learners may want to explore the content further, so give them the breadcrumbs they need to conduct their own research.
Our powerful connection to pictures goes back to the early days of the human race. To take advantage of this connection in training, use infographics to let learners’ eyes fast-track the information to the brain.
Remember that effective infographics aren’t just a collection of facts with cute icons; the information must be organized to convey a meaningful whole. In addition to the organization of the infographic, use the current understanding about how the brain reacts to changes in color to gain and hold your learners’ attention.
As more training is deployed on mobile devices, our hardwired preference for visual representation of data is likely to become even more pronounced.