Graphics for e-Learning: What Tool Do You Need?

Listen with webreader

I’m sure my friend and colleague, Elizabeth the Bibliophile, would tell me that graphics can’t be authored; author is a verb that applies to words only. So, I won’t let her read this before I post it. I hope you understand that I am using the term “authoring” to mean “a method to create, edit, or otherwise do something with”. 

Even if you don’t share my belief that eLearning is far more than flash animations and videos, you probably still agree that graphics are necessary. But how many? What type and quality? Who is going to create them, edit them, and how will they be viewed? Last time, I listed my Five Basic Things to consider about authoring tools, so let’s start with those: 

Sketch created in PowerPoint


Will graphics add value to my training design? Yes. Every eLearning course needs graphics. Nothing could be duller than page after page of words (sorry, Elizabeth!). In my courses, I use images not just for my HTML pages but also for the flash animations I produce (we’ll get to that feature in another post). If you teach event planning or catering, photos of food tables might suffice. Or, maybe simple sketches will do.  If your eLearning course is How to Use Photoshop, you might need screen shots. Business courses might use a lot of charts and graphs. I can’t think of any content where a picture isn’t worth 1000 words. 

Do I have the skill? OK, I’m going to be honest. I have used PowerPoint since 1991. Before that, I was pretty good at Freelance. When I started building eLearning courses in 2005, I needed something to resize graphics so I bought Photoshop. I don’t know a masking layer from a vector. It was three years before I figured out how to do anything other than crop and resize. I could have done that with PowerPoint or even Picasa. I would argue that “professional” graphics can get in the way of learning. Most of us are used to seeing more “homey” graphics in training, so maybe that’s the best way to present the material. I don’t know of any hard evidence either way; you decide what your students will respond to most effectively.  

Image created by a designer

By a Graphic Artist

What are the options?  The options are seemingly endless, from free to big bucks. Many will bathe your dog for you. Picasa is free and does most of what you’ll need to do. Easy Thumbnails is another option. Photoshop costs about $700, but its “little brother”, Photoshop Elements is about one tenth that price. Paint comes on every PC and Paintbrush seems to be a good option for Macs; also free. Many of us have PowerPoint and some even know how to use it for something other than bulleted lists J. If you need high-end graphics and can’t create them yourself, go to iStockPhoto, Veer, or Dreamstime, and purchase individual images for just a few dollars each. Hire a professional graphics designer for the really special images. 

PowerPoint Clip Art

Clip Art

How much functionality do you need from this tool? You’ll need the right format (jpeg, gif, png, etc.) and the right size for your eLearning pages, which you can probably do with any of the free applications. PowerPoint will not only allow you to create simple images with shapes and “clip art”, but it will also save your files, slides, and individual images in a variety of formats.  The example at the right is one I used in a client’s course with his voice telling the story about “Being Burned”.  If you create graphics for your eLearning courses the same way you would if they were for face-to-face instruction, you probably don’t need Photoshop functionality. Remember, design the output to add value and suit your audience. The graphic is way to deliver the message, not the message itself. 

Will this tool work within my LMS? For graphics, it’s probably “yes, easily”. Just make sure you size them appropriately and use the right file format. 

Next time, we’ll talk about creating and editing audio, video, and flash for eLearning courses.  Penny


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