The A, B, C’s of Consumer Learning: M is for Multimedia

Justine Ickes
Sep 26, 2014 9:00:00 AM

The digital natives are restless.

And it’s no wonder. With the rise of Instagram, Pinterest, Vine and other image-centric platforms, it’s more important than ever to incorporate multimedia in your online education programs. According to the Nielson Norman Group, a leading voice in the user experience field, the average person spends less than one minute on a web page. Some estimates put the time on page at a measly 20 to 30 seconds.


“So what?” you might ask. “People have paid to take my course so I know they want to learn. They’re not going to power off or speed-click through my activities.” You sure about that? While it’s true that anyone who’s chosen to enroll in an online learning program is, by definition, self-directed, even the most motivated student needs a boost now and then. That’s because asynchronous e-learning — the kind where students work independently, without an instructor, and at their own pace — can be a lonely endeavor and people, by nature, are social.


What’s more, today’s learners expect snappy, visually engaging educational experiences. So, even when your audience is super self-motivated, you’ll want to deliver your content in a way that keeps students happy. Check out our article on Making Online Learners Happy


What’s the right mix of audio, video and text?

Understanding your ideal learner’s needs and expectations; crafting reasonable and achievable objectives, and identifying your core content are important steps in developing a web-based education program. Knowing how to select and create effective multimedia is equally critical. Think of your consumer learning course as its own special world and tap into the power of images to draw in your students. But, once you’ve captured your audience’s attention, don’t toss away the key. Follow these best practices for incorporating audio, video, still images, and interactive hot spots in your consumer learning program.


Four Tips for Using Multimedia in E-learning Programs

1. Keep It Simple: Even the smartest learners need time to absorb new information and to practice new skills. Use mind maps to identify the most important topics you’ll cover. Then chunk your material into short bursts, say, 10-20 minutes per topic. Got too much content? Take another pass through your macro course outline.

2. Align Your Choice of Media with Your Objectives: Before you start creating a slideshow or scripting a video, loop back to the overarching course goals and objectives for your course. Ask yourself, “What’s the best way to present this information?” Suppose you’re teaching a module about photography.

Is a video the best way to deliver your main points? Or would it be better to introduce the concepts in another way?

For example, you could decide to create an interactive hot spot image to teach the location and functions of different parts of a camera. With this tool learners click on sections of a photo to open a pop-up window with explanatory information.

Combining text with an image is a great way to teach people about concrete, tangible objects and visually-driven concepts like interior design.

Just keep this caveat in mind: Hot spots and slideshows, like any e-learning tool, work best when in moderation. When overused, all the clicking through screens can quickly devolve into passive learning.


3. Be Intelligible: Unless you’re teaching about poetry or public speaking, narration may not add much to your course. I’m talking here about audio recordings of the written text in your course. Voiceovers make sense for video, of course, but well executed narration takes planning and skill (see tip # 4 below).

As you're writing your course, keep your target audience profile in mind and ask yourself, “Am I matching my language to their level of expertise? Or should I use layperson’s language?”

Think, too, about the actual language of your students. Do they all speak English? Or do you have a global audience? People whose first language isn’t English might have trouble with slang, jargon, and cultural references. Whether you opt to use narration or not, you’ll want to also consider using an e-reader so that your course is accessible to visually impaired people.


4. Take a Test Drive: Ever sign up for an e-course or a webinar and wonder, “What on earth was the instructor thinking!?” Muffled, inaudible audio, rapid-fire banter, and jargon-filled presentations can ruin the best curriculum. So before you launch your brand new course, enlist a mentor’s or friend’s critical eye and ask them for honest feedback on questions like these:

  • Are all the course materials, especially any audio or video clips, clear and comprehensible?
  • Do the hotspot images work on different devices?
  • How quickly do the slideshows and videos load?

Harness the multimedia beast and, you’ll not only help students learn, you’ll keep them coming back for more.

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