How NOT to make educational animation a distraction in eLearning

I recently had a discussion in a LinkedIn group for instructional designers on why animated videos are not widely used in education. Personally, I do believe that they could benefit the courses in both engagement and learning outcomes. However, some professors think that the educational animation is nothing but a “fun” distraction! Do talking dogs wearing shades contribute any values to the courses? Then I realize the problem here is not the animation itself, it is how people utilize it in their eLearning programs.

What is educational animation and why you should use it?

I need to clarify that the educational animation mentioned here are not those flying bullets or other special effects in your eLearning presentations. They are the animated videos that play as visual supporting tools for your teaching materials. You could turn the whole video-based course into animations to give learners new visual experiences. Or you could just include several animated shorts as extra video resources to explain some complicated ideas. They are best at visualizing complex ideas. For example, a medical student would have much easier experience studying the cardiovascular system with animations than plain documents. While texts and static illustrations guide people’s imagination about the blood circulation, videos show students how it works in details.

Furthermore, the educational animations have such an incredible storytelling ability. If you decide to create a fascinating narrative to guide learners throughout the learning processes instead of boring paragraphs and flying bullet points, then animations would be an effective supporting tool. The animations could easily introduce your characters, put them in a realistic scenario and deliver the knowledge to learners in a fun and relatable way. Live-action videos could perform the same function but animations – they are such eye-candies. They bring out the professional and artistic side of learning so that learners would have more appealing visual experience.

Sound great, then why they did not work?

Educatonal animations seem fun, right? Then why did they not work for some courses? I realized that the problems come from poor video quality and the lack of clear learning objectives.

1. Low quality

Obviously, it would be extraordinary when we create animations with Cartoon Network standard. You do not need such level to produce animated learning videos that work. However, emotionless characters or robotic movements would dramatically annoy the audience. Just try to walk in your students’ shoes, would you like a low-resolution animation with bad looking character design?

2. Unclear learning objectives

The major problem is that people created the videos without clear reasons. Everything in your course must have a purpose, so do animations. If you decide to include animated learning videos or any other types of teaching materials in the program, then first ask yourself why you need them? Do animated videos contribute any values to the course: better retention, faster information consumption or nicer learning experiences? Don’t just produce animations just because you like such idea of having them. Learning should be fun but you must be well aware of what kind of fun is effective in education.

Free Checklist: How to Make Animated Educational Videos for Online Courses

Essential steps and notes to help you organize your tasks

Tips to produce effective educational animations

1. Start with the learning objectives

This step is needed to clarify the reason why you should and you must include some animations in your course. I think it is the most important part of the educational animation production. The learning objectives help you shape the teaching materials for the best learning outcomes. If the purposes of the videos are clear, then you would be able to avoid unnecessary distraction.

Then, we do you need animations at all?

In my opinion, the best application of animation in eLearning is how it simplifies complicated ideas. If you are teaching difficult courses like science, then you would make the best out of educational animations.

2. Support visuals with audio

Audio narrated animations are proved to be the best way of communication in online learning. Animations alone could not do the trick. Spoken animated videos give learners the multisensory learning experiences, which later result in better retention rate.

I think it would be best if the audio is recorded by the lecturers. Using their voices would create an easy connection between the instructors and the students. Some of my clients also record their voices themselves. It is not professionally perfect but it is natural. Students would quickly recognize their instructor’s voices and feel more connected to the video.

3. Keep in short

Animations or any other types of video should not be longer than 5 minutes. Research shows that after 5 minutes, learners would dramatically lose their concentration in the video content, which is, in fact, starting to decrease 3 minutes before. With such limited duration, the video should be straightforward and informative at the same time. Then just break down the learning content into smaller pieces, and focus only on key ideas.

However, it would be meaningless when you skip on too much information. If you present too little knowledge like facts, charts, and numbers to clear up the ideas, students would be confused. Thus, just provide students enough information to follow but make sure those are critical points of the lessons.

4. Pick style

There is no right or wrong in choosing the right animation style for your course. Any styles could work as long as the message is delivered. You must be confusing here, right? If anything could work, then what is the best animation type for your course?

Some common animation types in eLearning are:

  • 3D animation
  • 2D traditional animation
  • Motion graphic animation
  • Whiteboard animation

3D animation would make accurate learning materials. However, it is also the most complicated and expensive one. Just keep in mind the more complex an animated video is, the pricier it gets. Then 3D animation should be used in subjects that require high details like medical education.

2D traditional animation is more reasonable than the 3D one. So what is 2D traditional animation? A quick example for you is whatever 2D animations on Cartoon Network or Disney Channel. This animation type often requires the artists to draw frame-by-frame, which costs lots of time and effort. Unless you are working on a project with such high standard, motion graphics may be a cheaper alternative.

Motion graphics are often used as explainer videos you see on commercial websites. They are animations generated by computer software like Adobe After Effects. Motion graphics are good at portraying a story and explaining a complicated topic.

Whiteboard is the most affordable option since it requires limited color, no background, and simple illustrations.

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