People of all ages love watching animations—- from cartoons to movies, animations are now being extensively used in various industries. In the learning domain too, animations are gaining popularity and are able to bring a higher engagement and make the learner experience the content.  Further with emerging trends like m-learning, micro learning and interactive videos at workplace and the proliferation of easy video and animation making and editing tools,, creating animations has become a breeze.

What are animations and their purpose in e-learning?

Animations consist of  rapid display of a succession of frames representing successive moments in time and when these are shown quickly (at least 24 frames per second), it given an illusion of seeing  a smooth movement or of time progression.

Animations bring the power of imagination and creativity to your learning. Through the use of animations in e-learning, you can demonstrate almost any product, service, process or activity to your learners, sometimes so realistically that it’s hard to believe it’s not an actual video. The elearning modules of today use animations from very small object animations to highly complex ones (like the ones used for 2d or 3d simulations). To know more about the benefits of animation in elearning please read my blog here.

Animations in e-learning serve two primary purposes-

1.Learning i.e. cognitive               

Animations stimulate our cognitive domain primarily through multi sensory techniques and deal with level II and III of Bloom’s Taxonomy. They demonstrate or execute the processes and concepts in a way to increase the retention and application.

2.Motivation i.e. psychological     

The motion and colors of animations grab attention, explain instantly the subject matter under consideration and demonstrate the content in a storytelling way and thus are an effective learning tool, when precisely tailored to your target audience.

What are the different type of animations in e-learning?

There are many types of animation that can be used for instructional purposes, These include:

2-D animation:  As per Wikipedia figures are created or edited on the computer using 2D bitmap graphics and 2D vector graphics.

3-D animation: Creating the illusion of moving objects rendered from 3-D wireframes. Based on mathematical algorithms, the objects can be rotated and moved over time.

Motion graphics: In simple terms, motion graphics means moving graphical elements and text across the screen with the help of software.

Transformations: Animations that depict changes without movement, such as color transformations.

Stop-motion animation: Photographs of an object shown in a quick sequence to create the illusion of movement.

The world of animations has so many different facets to it that it makes me wonder about the best practices to use animations in e-learning. It was during a recent coffee break at our office that I had a quick chat with our senior animator to hear his perspectives for best practices to use animations in elearning. His work desk was the reflection of his personality lively, vibrant and joyful just like good animations are . To him, the world of animation is about bringing life to static figures, pictures, graphics etc.

Below is the snapshot of our chat in the form of usable tips for the benefit of my readers.

1.Choose an animation style to match the learning objectives and audience

Before we choose an animation style it is important to understand the learning objectives and the audience. While this might not come under the direct purview of the creative team and has got to do more with instructional design stage still it is an important factor to consider before deciding on any animation style.

There are various known styles of animation like whiteboard animation, explainer animation, cartoon animation,kinetic typography animations etc. For example whiteboard animation style and explainer animation is best suited for explaining a concept and cartoon animations are suited for depicting scenarios or events. Kinetic typography is apt for situations where you want the learners to remember key points like Dos and Don’ts.

Similarly you need to have an audience analysis in place so that the animation style can connect with your learners. If your learners work in back office, an animation style which is light and fun (like cartoon animations or light explainer animations with a comic storyboard style) can appeal  them. Similarly if your audience is mid manager level, whiteboard animations could be a preferred style as you have an option to make it both casual and serious.

2.Keep the design simple

Animations with simple design styles are preferred in e-learning. Unlike marketing animations, which have more to do with brand image and perception, customer acquisition etc and may use a complex design, e-learning animations serve a specific learning purpose and must use a simple design. Animation design should be chosen so that it is self explanatory.

3. Maintain consistency of design style

Consistency of design style is key while developing animations or graphics. Keeping animations consistent throughout the learning video can make the learning process effectiveFor example, if the chosen animation type is 2d then use of flat icons and line icons should be preferred. Once you have started using flat icons in animation stick to that style dont mix up flat icons and line icons. Choose an apt color palate consisting of 3-5 colors that can work for the entire animated sequence i.e from start to the end. The human brain is scientifically wired to follow patterns, a sudden usage of of too many colors can confuse the brain and thus making the learning process ineffective.

4.Pace the animation right

While creating animations for elearning , proper care should be taken to ensure that animations are paced right. The objective of using animations is to make the learning process simple but high paced animations can create information overload (due to fast movement of objects on screen), which doesn’t give the brain enough time to process the information in the right sequence. This can make the entire process of learning ineffective. The tip here is to bring about 6-8 contextual objects/icons on the screen in a minute of animation. Anything less than that can lead to boredom and anything more than that can cause overload.

5.Use animations with the right context

In elearning modules, animation should be used after analyzing the context. The context could be derived on the basis of the audience-millennials or baby boomers etc, organization culture-formal, informal etc as well as the subject matter for which animation needs to be developed. For example, an animation explaining a complex process of transfer of electricity inside an electronic circuit for engineering graduates will differ from those of engineer apprentices. Since this is not a process visible to the naked eyes and cannot be effectively represented with static images and drawings alone, an illustrated animation can play a significant role in depicting the flow of electricity inside the circuit . Including random animations without building the context cannot bring the effectiveness of animations for learning.

6.Use visual cues in animation to guide the focus of the learner

In an animated elearning module, there should be the use of visual cues to guide the learner’s focus on the screen. The animation screen might comprise of various elements like the background, character/s and objects as well as on screen text. Using visual cues like dancing arrows, a slight glow on the object, zooming, panning etc can help the learners to focus on the important learning elements.  This becomes especially relevant in case of animations as the movement of objects is in a rapid sequential manner and by the time the learner would have grasped the concept or explanation, another animation sequence will appear on the screen. Visual cues will help to direct the learner’s attention on the important text or object on screen which is corresponding to the e-learning objective.

7. Use audio to enhance the animations

In elearning animations, audio can be of two types- first one is the voice over (generally human voice) and second is the background score or the sounds which enrich the animations and make them sound as realistic as possible. For example while designing e-learning animations as a part of gamified employee induction with the Everest theme we had used the voice talent whose voice was very motivational and inspiring as the theme was that of climbing heights in tough conditions and to achieve success. Similarly in our formula one car race themed e-learning game, we had used animation sequence of car crash with a car crash sound to give it a realistic feel, which was quite impactful.

8.Manage the split attention pitfall carefully

While using animations in elearning, the developers should be careful about the split attention pitfall.  Split attention pitfall is the diversion of attention of the learners due to multiple objects or learning elements on the screen. With multiple objects on screen it’s hard for learners to simultaneously look at the graphic and read an explanation. Like if you need an explanation, place it after the animation sequence is over and make it as concise (truncated) as possible.