Don’t Write. Draw!
Teaching is largely a performative art, often with a visual component. A good teacher, armed with nothing more than a whiteboard and a marker, can bring concepts to life through narrative and hand-drawn illustrations. Many teachers have intuitive mastery of this whiteboarding skill, such that they don’t need to spend much time thinking about what to draw or write on the whiteboard. The lively spontaneity of explaining something on the whiteboard can be both highly creative and pedagogically effective.
So if great teachers are so good at whiteboarding and creating impromptu visual learning experiences for their students, why do authors and developers of online course materials struggle to include these infographic-like visuals in their online course materials? I believe the answer is that course writers must make a mindset shift, thinking less like an author and more like a designer. This mindset shift has several components:
- Thinking of one’s work in terms of visual design and media design instead of mere “authoring” in a narrow sense.
- Remembering that the goal is not merely to cover the material with words but to really teach the material.
- Reflecting on what visual elements are used in the classroom or on a whiteboard that could be brought into the online course materials.
- Taking the time to draw, sketch, and brainstorm effective ways of teaching course concepts visually before beginning any writing.
- Working with a collaboration partner (an instructional designer or a media designer) who can take a rough idea for a new visual from a pencil sketch and turn it into an interesting, professional-quality illustration or animation.
I genuinely believe that the challenge in getting writers of online course materials to include more visuals has more to do with this mindset shift than with course writers not being visual thinkers. After all, many (if not most) course writers of online course materials are or have been teachers. And most teachers have at least some facility with using the whiteboard, chalkboard, or projector (whether digital or analog) to draw and write visual elements that help their students better understand the concepts in the classroom. Bringing these pedagogically effective visual elements into your work as an online course writer is often just a matter of reminding yourself what you already do as an instructor and finding the best way to recreate and include those visual elements in your online course materials.
Zachary Fruhling is an instructional designer, online educational content author and developer, educational technologist, philosophy instructor, poet, and podcaster with nearly 20 years of experience in higher education and educational content development. See Zachary's website at www.zacharyfruhling.com.