Start Doodling in Class: The Value of Lo Fi Graphics in eLearning

doodling-for-ideasGoing to class and taking notes go hand in hand. And often, particularly when taking notes by hand, note-taking and doodling go hand in hand.

It turns out that there’s value in those doodles. So much value, in fact, that now this type of doodling has a name: “sketchnotes”.

“Sketchnotes are rich visual notes created from a mix of handwriting, drawings, hand-drawn typography, shapes, and visual elements like arrows, boxes and lines.”
– Mike Rohde, The Sketchnote Handbook: The Illustrated Guide to Visual Note-Taking (2013)

Rohde’s book mainly discusses the why, how and what of using sketchnotes as an alternative to jotting down traditional handwritten notes during conferences and talks (lectures). But, after the success of his first book, Rohde published a second book that expands on the uses of the sketchnote (The Sketchnote Workbook: Advanced Techniques for Taking Visual Notes You Can Use Anywhere (2015)). The new book discusses sketchnoting for idea generation, idea mapping, planning, and documentation (of how-to guides, travel experiences, food experiences, movies, TV and media).

Who knew that the simple doodle could do so much?

But, what’s the value of visual note-taking in eLearning?

Below is an exploration of ideas for integrating sketches and visual note-taking into eLearning programs.

Rapid Prototyping

rapid-prototyping-sketchSketches and hand-drawn graphics can serve as placeholders during brainstorming sessions to communicate eLearning program concepts to key stakeholders. Lo fi graphics can sometimes communicate a concept more clearly than more “polished” graphics or text. Also, as evidenced by Johanna Weintraub of Tradecraft, "Psychologically, the people we show our [lo fi] sketches to feel freer to offer constructive feedback when looking at informal sketches rather than a polished project we have slaved over. Even a black and white vector UI sketch can deter deeper feedback." This informality allows for rapid prototyping—and pain-free ditching of not-so-great ideas.

Sketches allow eLearning to be developed via agile methods, especially when the “sprints” are short. Hi fi graphics can always be added later, once your prototype has convinced stakeholders of the value of building your eLearning program. Or you may find lo fi graphics are the way to go in the finished product, too.

Replace Text-Based Overview Slides with a Hand-Drawn Graphic

In the article “How to Make Your Online Training Go Viral”, I suggested creating a show-stopping infographic to replace the traditional text-based “Course Overview” or “Syllabus” slide. What if you tried the same technique, but using a hand-drawn graphic instead of an infographic?

Infographics with tons of information and small text can look overwhelmingly busy. However, a busy sketchnote can often be interesting and absorbing, causing a learner to stop in her tracks and ponder the intricacies of the hand drawn visual.

In her video “Visual Recording on the iPad”, Rachel S. Smith talks about how to record information from meetings, lectures, conferences and other talks in a visual format (using an iPad, in this case). Rachel includes tons of great, ancillary information on the entire process. The resulting sketch of her talk is rather busy when taken at face value. But as you watch Rachel create the sketch as she talks through each portion, her “visual cloud” coalesces and the drawing makes logical sense. And you can use the drawing to later reconstruct her talk or hone in on a particular section of interest.

Focus on “Ideas, Not Art”

Ideas-Not-Art-Mike_Rhode Photo taken from "The Sketchnote Handbook: The Illustrated Guide to Visual Note Taking", Mike Rohde, Peach Pit Press, 2013, p. 18.

Lo fi sketches emphasize the big picture and key take-aways. It’s not about Art. It’s about communicating Information, Thoughts, and Ideas. It’s about thinking in Metaphors. It’s about using Visuals to aid the learner in recall and information synthesis. (Maybe the last three sentences could be considered a definition of "Art"?)

Sketchnotes can be morphed into “sketchplanations”—meaning the use of a sketch to explain something. Use sketchnotes to “sketchplain” something to the learner in your eLearning course. Incorporate your sketches into short videos, as Rachel S. Smith does above.  These types of videos are extremely useful in mLearning, too. Salman Khan’s video explanations on Khan Academy could be categorized as “sketchplanations”, since he incorporates simple sketches (numbers, line drawings, shapes, etc.) into his explanations of mathematics.

Launch Collaborative Learning

Sketchnoting is fun. “Fun” experiences lead to sharing and discussions, contributing to a richer learning experience. Ask your online training class participants to create sketchnotes of your course. Each drawing will be unique, as different learners will pick up on different nuances of the concepts. Ask learners to share their sketchnotes with each other or on social media. Learners can collaborate and use the sketchnotes as a launching point for deeper conversations on the subject matter. This technique could help bring concepts from the classroom to the workplace, a form of performance support.

Use Sketching for Pre-Work

Pre-work builds pre-course hype, and helps bring the learners' knowledge base to a common level before the course officially begins. Pre-work might consist of watching a video, visiting a physical location, or completing reading. Why not ask the learner to create a sketchnote synthesizing the information they learned during the pre-work exercise or visit, including open questions for later class discussion? You’ll enable learner forethought on the course material and create a collaborative learning environment before the course even officially begins. And you can potentially gauge the starting point of each individual’s knowledge, so that you can tailor class content accordingly.

Create Something Worth Revisiting, Sharing and Discussing

Sketchnotes and other types of lo fi graphics can lend a personal quality to eLearning. Sometimes, highly polished computer-generated graphics can remove the human element from the visuals. There are definitely times when hi fi graphics are preferred, of course. But, there may be times when the casual or personal feel of hand-drawn graphics can personalize the learning experience and improve information recall.

How and when have you included hand drawn graphics and sketching into your eLearning programs? When looking at your quiz grades in your LMS, do you see better information retention? Please discuss your thoughts and ideas with us via our social media channels, to help expand the conversation on stretching instructional design techniques to maximize learning.

Gauri Reyes is a talent developer and learning leader with extensive experience in roles ranging from software management to managing the learning function in organizations. She is stoked about finding ways of incorporating drawing into learning, despite being unable to call herself an "artist". Gauri is Principal Learning Strategist and CEO at Triple Point Advisors and Founder of the YOUth LEAD program. Follow her on Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+.

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