Creating Learning Experiences With Images and Video | Mel Milloway

How do you ensure great learning design?

Whether you’re working with video, PDFs, or blog posts to deliver training content, visual elements are key to delivering a clear message to your audience.

Mel Milloway, Learning Experience Design Manager at Miro, joined this episode of The Visual Lounge to talk about the importance of visuals and video in learning design.

Prior to working at Miro, Mel worked in learning design at Amazon and has held other learning and development roles at various organizations.

She’s known for promoting and talking about UX design, crafting mock-ups, and developing learning products with a variety of technologies. She often blogs about the new tools she’s testing and shares her thoughts on the world of learning and development.

In this episode, we get to hear some of her words of wisdom around learning design, getting feedback, working with data, and the benefits of video in learning. We hear some stories from her career and how she’s helped to solve problems and target audience needs effectively.

You can watch the video on this topic at the top of this post, to listen to the podcast episode, hit play below, or read on for more…

The difference between instructional designers and learning experience designers

Everyone likes to define these two roles differently, but Mel has her own way of differentiating them based on her own experiences. When she first got started in instructional design, it was a lot of scriptwriting, storyboards, visual designs, some eLearning, and development.

When it came to working with design systems, it was more about helping UX designers create rules about how different components of learning content are made. So, for example, what the buttons are going to look like or the brand guidelines.

Then, her role at Amazon moved into more user testing and interviewing users. She sees learning experience design as marrying the UX design practices and embedding them into the instructional design process.

What makes good learning design?

It’s not an easy thing to explain because there are so many ways to deliver training content. Mel likes to sum it up by how you “enable performance” and “empower people” so that they can learn and perform after consuming the content.

To do that, you need to look at the learner’s journey. Start by asking, is this something they’re learning for the first time? Are they trying to troubleshoot something? That will determine how you present the content to the audience.

“It’s trying to figure out, where is that person at? And what is the best thing that we can do for them at that moment? Is it to serve that up through the product itself? Or do we see people going to YouTube?”

Good design looks different across organizations. And there are a whole host of different challenges and focuses for each company because every audience is different.

The role visuals play in design

Visuals are key for a lot of learning and development content, but it’s easy to overlook the best ways to use visuals. It’s not about just throwing visuals in there; it’s about how you use them.

You can use visuals to strategically direct the eye of the audience, improve clarity, and much more.

Mel explained an example of a piece of content with two columns. On one side, there’s a picture and on the other side, a call-to-action. If the picture is a person’s profile, you want them looking at the call-to-action, not away from it.

“Because what people generally look for when they’re looking at a site with a person on it is where the eyes are. They’re looking at where the eyes are going. So by doing that, you’re drawing attention to the call to action.”

In this case, the visual element has a clear reason for being there. It’s pointing focus towards what’s important.

In UX, there are also rules about the proximity of images. The closer something is to something else, the more related they are, so you can play around with that too. Whitespace is another thing to bear in mind.

“You also want to use like whitespace to let things breathe. So, it’s all about balance and trying to figure out what works the best.”

How do you decide what visuals to include?

While there’s no firm rule for what does and doesn’t belong in learning content, Mel likes to ask: is this adding or subtracting from anything on the screen?

“Anything I’m putting out, whether it’s an eLearning, whether it’s a website, I should be able to articulate the ‘why’ behind every single thing there.”

Making decisions on design can be tough, though. You need to balance your own preferences with what the audience wants and expects. You shouldn’t pick a color just because you like it. You need to think about accessibility, what it’s drawing focus to, and what your audience prefers.

“When we speak about design, we have to speak to data, not our preferences.”

Getting a second opinion

The best visual design is often a collaborative process, and learning and development content is no different. When we create some kind of visual, graphic, or video and something just doesn’t look right, what do you do?

Mel likes to ask fellow visual designers to take a look. Sometimes you get stuck on a piece of work and can’t figure out what needs changing. A fresh pair of eyes can immediately identify what areas need improvement and give you new ideas.

“One of the things we did on our team was we always had a learning experience designer and a quality assurance person who would literally take just 30 minutes on someone else’s project, go through it and just leave comments.”

“Video adds emotion. It adds that depth, that realness.”

When to use talking head videos

Talking head videos are one of the most popular types of videos that learning designers use for their content. But are they always the best choice?

When deciding whether to use the talking head format, you should first think about the experience the audience is going through.

Mel likes to figure out what place the learner is at when they come across her content. If someone is frustrated and is trying to find the answer to something quickly, a talking head video might not be the best option.

If it’s a longer course that someone’s taking, a talking head video could help to tell a story and make it “sticky” in the learner’s mind.

“I think it just really depends on that experience and need for that person and what that person is looking for. Are they looking for a quick answer? Are they looking to really understand a concept?”

The role of video in the learner experience

Over the past few years, we’ve heard plenty of people proclaim that this is the age of video, but what about learning content? Is video always best for learning content?

The good thing about video, Mel says, is that it often addresses the “why,” not just the how. She explained that when she first started at Amazon creating training for engineers, there was so much documentation. It all explained how to do stuff, but rarely why.

She feels that video helps to bridge that gap and tie the how to the why. It can help provide context and depth to whatever you’re learning. With that extra context, it could even help to reduce the cognitive load the learner has to handle.  

“I think it really gives that extra context that you don’t have in other mediums necessarily.”

How to create great training videos

“Make sure you have data on how people are using your videos.”

One of the most important things that Mel has realized in her career is that you should always try to get data on content usage. No matter if you’re creating videos or PDFs, you should have a clear idea of who’s using what and whether they’re actually gaining anything from it.

Once you have the data, you can figure out what else to produce that might be helpful. For example, with video, if you see people are dropping off, you need to know whether that’s because they got what they needed or they didn’t.

If they’re dropping off because they got what they needed, perhaps you need to put that information somewhere else as well, so it’s easier to access. Maybe you could benefit from making short videos in the future instead. But without the data, you’d never know.

“When it comes down to it, I just think having the data, to begin with, is very important to be able to know where you’re investing that time. And once you have that information, you can go back and say, historically, we know this kind of information shouldn’t be in a video. It should be outside of the video. But I think you have to have that data to be able to ask those questions.”

For more tips on creating top training content and visuals, be sure to check out the TechSmith Academy. There are a bunch of resources there that will help you with any kind of instructional design and video production.

Matt Pierce

Matt Pierce is a Learning & Video Ambassador at TechSmith. In this role speaks and teaches about video creation and visual communication. A graduate of Indiana University he has ten years of experience working in learning and development with a focus on visual instruction. He has directly managed the training, user assistance, video, and other teams for TechSmith. Teach him something @piercemr

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