I subscribe to Tom Kuhlmann’s Rapid eLearning blog. I like his low-cost, practical approach to developing eLearning components and have been following him for years. He posted an article on visual thinking. You can find it here:  http://www.articulate.com/rapid-elearning/practice-visual-thinking-skills-apply-e-learning/ Coupled with all the stuff we remember from Tufte’s Visual Information books and lecture (you do remember that, don’t you?) I think this helps us think beyond the verbal explanation or screen capture/simulation trap. What I like best about it is the idea of visual shorthand. However, there is a certain danger inherent in his approach.

The first is the topic of visual thinking to begin with. He provides a brief overview here: http://www.articulate.com/rapid-elearning/essential-guide-visual-thinking-e-learning/  which introduces the concept of visual thinking and sets the stage for his “How to Apply Visual Thinking” post. I haven’t read Roam’s books yet, but if his videois any guide, it oversimplifies the case and appears to assume that everyone thinks alike. Now, I’m not going to launch into a learning styles thing, but my own experience has demonstrated that different people respond to different types of explanations differently. For example, when I want directions, I want to see a map. I don’t need words. Prefer not to have them, as a matter of fact. My wife is just the opposite. She has no use for the map but wants turn-by-turn verbal directions. I believe this is related to deeper cognitive processes because I’ve noticed it affects how we approach a lot of tasks and other information-intense activities. It isn’t a difference of learning styles so much as it is cognitive styles.

So when Tom contrasts verbal with visual learning, he neglects to take into consideration that there are varieties of visual learners and this needs to be taken into consideration. Mind Maps or Concept Maps are often portrayed as free-form stream-of-consciousness diagrams people draw to show relationships between info-bits. In my experience, these are not the least bit helpful in promoting recall for my particular cognitive style. A map should represent an “actual” structure for people with my cognitive style. Things have to have an organic relationship with multiple levels of meaning to satisfy my inherent sense of How The World Should Be. In other words, what Tufte describes as being “information dense” is what I find most satisfying.

And it is the WORST thing for rapid e-learning.

What? Did I just say that? Yes. Yes, I did.

When developing software demos and simulations from screen captures, there is often WAY too much visual information on the screen for good visual learning to take place. In these cases, I would recommend making judicious use of the Blur Tool to obscure extraneous stuff. This is one form of visual shorthand. It eliminates potential distractions before they happen. Sometimes, the best thing you can do for me is to provide less information instead of more. Rather than doing a screen-by-screen capture of the steps I need to follow, maybe a hand-drawn diagram of essential steps would be better. Yes, I will need to see the real thing eventually, but for learning purposes, maybe a cartoon will teach me more than actual screen shots. Lee Lefever of Common Craftunderstands this and uses cartoon cutouts exclusively.

If nothing else, I think this highlights the contrast between online learning and offline learning. Offline, I want information dense handouts that I can explore at my leisure. Online, if I have to look at it more than two minutes, I’m going to give up on it. This includes lots of text, complicated drawings, or intricately detailed diagrams. It’s not going to take me long to look at it, even if it’s designed for long attention spans.

Just something to think about.

In other news, if you want a quick outline on Training Needs Analysis, I came across this:  http://www.xperthr.com/how-to/how-to-conduct-a-training-needs-analysis/6716/ If the client or business partner wants an outline of what it is that we need to do, this might be a helpful guide for them. It also helps us document the list of things we’ve accomplished during that phase when it looks like we “aren’t doing anything,” despite being very busy.

And for the final freebie, I ran into this set of tips for creating scenario-based learning:http://blog.originlearning.com/tips-for-creating-scenario-based-learning/ This is mostly an advertisement, but it also echoes the theme above – keep things simple and don’t get so caught up in the details that the learners become distracted.