In order for employees to learn effectively and for employers to implement change successfully, the message communicated must be crafted in such a way that it makes it past working memory and into the long-term memory of the employees (or learners in this setting). Working memory acts as the brain’s gatekeeper. Research shows that people remember visual information better than linguistic information. This assertion dates to 1967 when Roger Shepard observed that “there are rather severe limitations on the amount of information that a human can retain from a single exposure to a set of stimuli”.
The context of this statement is briefly as follows: Shepard gave each of three groups 600 index cards. The first set of cards comprised only pictures, the second only words, and the third sentences. The members of each group had the opportunity to study the cards for as long as they needed. Immediately after members indicated they had studied the cards long enough, they had to submit to a forced recognition test asking, “have you seen this, yes or no”. The scores were 98% for pictures, 90% for words and 88% for sentences. Furthermore, when members of the group who had the picture index cards retook the same test 7 days later, they still scored 90%. The conclusion? People remember visual information better than linguistic information.
How to apply this logic to your training?
As mentioned above, visual information is easier to retain and commands more attention than linguistic and even audio information. That’s perhaps why we are so hooked on Pinterest and Instagram. But, as is the case with any training strategy, there is a right and a wrong way to approach things. Images and visuals done incorrectly will hamper rather than strengthen the learning experience. For example, selecting images that do not resonate with learners, using an inconsistent image style throughout the material or even overloading on visuals and images will detract from the message you want to get across. Powerful and engaging images and visuals that are integrated into training material effectively will lead to increased engagement and information retention. In a next post, we will delve into the ten types of visual content that guarantees increased learner engagement.
Importantly, even with the correct visuals, do not force learners to use part of their working memory to decode your meaning. Rather:
- use well-designed visuals to support learning;
- minimise text with a combination of audio narration and visuals to keep the loop uncluttered;
- present content in “bite sizes” that the working memory can absorb; and
- avoid distractions.
When designing your training material, instructional designers should, therefore, structure course material in which all the elements – visual information, auditory information and text – work together to ensure trainee attention at any given moment. Balancing these elements effectively will assist your learners to understand and – importantly – retain your training message.
You might also enjoy reading: