As a tool for digital learning or eLearning, animation is a double-edged sword. When used effectively, it’s a great way to engage learners and communicate ideas. But using animation in learning can lead to distraction, and even prevent the processing or recollection of new information.

In this article, we’ll talk you through how to use animation to enhance your eLearning. We’ll also look at common traps associated with animation-based learning, and provide strategies for overcoming or preventing those issues.


How animation in learning works

To explain how animation can enhance your digital learning strategy, we need to understand what makes it different from other eLearning assets.

To begin, we can narrow our focus to a few key elements:

  • Movement
  • Abstraction
  • Narrative

Movement, specifically the movement of drawings and designs, is what separates animation-based learning from other ways of presenting information. If your animation has no movement, it’s just a picture. Movement acts as an attention magnet, particularly when it tells a story or is accompanied by a voice over.

This movement is one of the key reasons for the engaging nature of animation in learning.

Abstraction is the process of removing details that aren’t important, like filtering out the background noise. In an animation, a stick figure could be just a handful of lines, but is easily recognised as a person. So, we can focus our attention on what they are doing or the message they convey. By keeping things easily recognisable, you ensure the focus is on the learning outcomes.

Researchers have found that gestures and facial expressions may enhance the learning experience, and abstraction allows the animator to distil these human expressions into simplified forms. This reduces the amount of unnecessary information that the learner needs to process, making animation a powerful learning tool.

Narrative, as we’re defining it here, is the ‘series of events’ in your animation, and allows your learner to make a logical (cognitive) connection with the content. This could be the story of a new employee’s experience in the workplace, or when facing a particular set of new challenges.

meta-analysis of studies on learning-based animation found that animations demonstrating how to do something were more effective than those that only tried to teach concepts.


Using animation in learning

Animations sound like a great idea for learning. So why don’t we use them all the time?

Animation can engage learners by giving them less to think about (through abstraction), but also gives them more to concentrate on (through movement and narrative).

If not done right, animations can be overwhelming - it is important to keep them clean and simplistic. Otherwise, they can split your learner’s focus or lead to cognitive overload, causing distraction. In addition, for users with visual or access impairment, they can be exclusive.

Movement adds to the effectiveness of animation for learning by attracting attention and emphasis. This makes it more likely to sit in your learner’s short-term memory than be committed to long-term memory, especially when they’re not already familiar with the concepts. Animations need to have follow up tasks or activities so the message is retained and reinforced for the best outcomes.

But the biggest problem with animation for learning comes from overuse.

If animation is the only asset in your digital learning strategy, it will become just like the background noise learners will filter out.


Bringing your learning to life

When considering animation, balance the three key elements (movement, abstraction, narrative) to optimise this medium for your digital learning strategy.

We’ve included a few important tips below to help improve the way you use animation-based learning.


Tip 1: Use your animation sparingly and in context

Short animations are effective for learning, and any animation is best used together with other learning methods.

We use animation to introduce why a concept is important and how to follow a procedure in a particular context. Avoid using animation to demonstrate something abstract or theoretical.

For example, when developing a learning program around workplace health and safety, use animation to

(a) tell a story about a worker who risks harming themselves by failing to follow procedure, and then

(b) use short, compliance-style animations to explain the correct way to follow a process, such as picking up a heavy object or sitting at a desk.

Backing the animation up with assessments and other eLearning tools will help to reinforce the content of the animation.


Tip 2: Let the learner move at their own pace

There are several ways to combat information overload, but the most essential is to let your storytelling develop at a comfortable, learner-controlled pace. Additionally, it is important that the learner can stop or pause, rewind and revisit the content as they wish.

In terms of the content, present key concepts every 20-30 seconds. In our experience designing these solutions, this offers the best learner experience and feedback. Avoid overwhelming learners with too much information in too-short an animation.

So once you set the scene, consider cutting down content to focus on what is really important.


Tip 3: Be mindful of the learning experience

Always use closed captions so the learner can enable these if they want to follow a written transcript or listen to the audio - the choice is theirs. Learning can take place in a variety of contexts, so offering choice is key to a positive experience.

Visual cueing devices within the animation, such as highlighted sections of the screen, will also help to maintain learners' focus.


And finally...

People love to tell and share stories, so consider whether animations are the right approach.

Animations are a popular choice at the moment, but are best used in the right context with easily-understood, relatable stories and messages.

Interested in using animations as part of your learning strategy? Get in touch with us today!