How to Hack Learning with Animated GIFs

Pop quiz. Which of these do you agree with?

  1. You prefer to read long, detailed information.
  2. When doing a task you tend to focus intensely on one thing at a time.
  3. You prefer to process information through short bursts of high attention.
  4. When doing a task you tend to alternate between multiple areas at once.

Research suggests more and more people agree with the second two statements. Today, consumers are bombarded with information and messages throughout every day. We get email at work, lectures in class, notifications on our phones, and information overload everywhere.

One of the ways we’ve combated this overload and accelerated our communication over the last decade has been by using animated GIFs. These bite-size pieces of communication have already taken over our personal communication habits and are now making their way into our work lives. Animated GIFs — once only used on Twitter, Reddit, and other social media platforms — are now major players in the business world. They are perfect for replying to an email thread, posting on Slack channels, or submitting a ticket to IT, and are becoming a valuable tool in the communicator’s toolbox. The GIF has shifted how, when, and even why people communicate.

And that includes how we give and receive instructions.

animated gifs for instructions

In 2017, employees and customers need information delivered as quickly and efficiently as possible. This is why microlearning is such a key trend. The good news is that no matter what industry you fit in, you can build effective training, demos, and instructions with animated GIFs.

Why use animated GIFs

As people become busier, it’s the author’s job to make sure the content we create is scannable and easy to follow. Nobody likes long, drawn out instructions.

Why use animated GIFs for learning

Images and screencasts are still vital for showing people how to do something, but the GIF can provide the best of both worlds.

Here are just a few reasons to use GIFs for instruction:

  • GIFs are easier to follow than a series of still images.
  • Animated GIFs are easier to create than a polished video (and have less expectations from your audience).
  • GIFs play automatically.
  • You can explain a process without any narration.

4 ways to add GIFs to hack your instructions

1. Answer a question

GIFs are a great way to give a quick tip or answer to a question. Creating an animated GIF can actually be faster than typing out the instructions, and easier for the person to follow.

The motion makes you stop, look, and pay attention in a way that words, or even a still image, can’t. You can also pair a GIF alongside text that clearly explains the process.

Use animated GIFs to answer questions

Image Source: SEMrush

2. Give a comparison

Sometimes a GIF can be used to show off complicated topics in an engaging way.

Animated GIF for comparison

Image Source: Moz

Here, Moz took a complex topic (the three major components of building a modern webpage) and distilled it into a simple graphic. GIFs are perfect to use as supplemental material to enhance your instructions or information.

3. Demonstrate a process

It’s surprising how many steps there can be in even the simplest process. And if you try to explain everything with words, it becomes long and drawn out. GIFs are the perfect way to quickly explain a process without having to write down all the steps.

Animated gif title animation

4. Provide entertainment

Just because you’re giving instructions doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. But be warned. The entertainment factor should be used like salt. A little bit sprinkled in can go a long way.

Animated GIFs to provide entertainment

BONUS! How to get and create animated GIFs

It turns out, it’s never been easier to get high-quality GIFs. You can use sites like GIPHY and Tumblr and get premade, ready-to-roll GIFs. Those are great spots to go if you want to add a quick GIF to your presentation or blog post. But if you want a custom GIF to show something on your screen, you can even create your own animated GIFs.

Whenever I need to create my own GIFs to show someone how to do something or answer a quick question, it always starts off as a screen recorded video. At TechSmith, we use Snagit, but there are a number of tools you can use to get the job done.

Here a few tips to create the perfect animated GIF from video.

  • Focus on showing off one topic for your GIF.
  • Keep the screen activity to a minimum.
  • Limit your initial video to under 10 seconds.
  • Don’t worry if it’s not HD quality.

Have you used any of these animated GIFs in your instructions or for learning? Let us know in the comments!