Data Visualization for Meaningful Story Comprehension

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Our belief: At Vignettes Learning we use stories in eLearning; however, we make them interactive. The emphasis is getting learners involved in the story and not just telling the learners the story.
Synthesis. Data visualization adds dimension and impact to eLearning lessons. By visualization, cold data becomes more comprehensible. It brings the information to the ground level so that eLearners can understand it more fully. More so, visuals help project the meaning of the learning story and make it easier to be retained or remembered by the eLearner. 

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It is said that a picture paints a thousand words. Such is the power of a visual: it can quickly convey the story to the learners or create a connection between the lesson and the learner. Visuals are important in interactive eLearning. In fact, I can say that it is almost impossible to implement an interactive eLearning course without visuals.

Why must we visualize? In any endeavor, one of the first steps we take is to visualize. We need to project the end result of any action. Visualization is like clear traffic lights or our Google map during travel: it guides us towards our desired destination.

How do we visualize? Since the purpose of visualization is to achieve clarity, our end result should be represented with the best possible scenario of our desired reality. This means that we must have enough data, information and feedback so that our visual is an accurate representation of reality.

When do we visualize? We use visualization in cases when we need 1) to reinforce the presentation of data and information, 2) to simplify complex presentations with heavy information, and 3) to augment reality and capture the attention of an audience, especially large groups.

Visualization has two important core characteristics:

  • The ability of the visual or the story to impact the memory of learners.
  • The selection of the data that best captures the essence of the lesson

Effective visuals are those which the mind easily captures: those that stick to our heads like glue. Think of the childhood TV commercials, posters or memes which you still recall to this day. Those are great examples of visuals that create lasting impact because they are embedded in our memory.

On the other hand, not all data or information should be visualized in eLearning design. Visualization loses impact if all data is visualized. Nothing will stand out in a presentation that has everything  interpreted with a visual. Selecting the correct and right amount of information to be visualized is very important. 

Since the function of making data easy to view is to help learners instantly, too much or too little visualization spells a big difference. Also, I must emphasize that visualization has nothing to do with colors, graphs or design. The key is choosing the relevant data to be visualized so that it adds value to the learners.

Using technology as a visualization asset. Graphic and authoring tools are important because these turn technology into an asset. However, we must remember that effective visualization is not just about aesthetics. Visual development should aim to help learners access information smoothly and seamlessly, to make the narrative or presentation more organized for navigation. 

Why is this important? Since we want to allow the learners to follow their own learning and interest areas, as developers we should help them find the way out of the labyrinth. In essence, visualization facilitates the learning process, cuts the friction out for the learners, delivers the needed data and grants the discovery of new meanings. 

Jim Stikeleather, in his Harvard Business Review article entitled When Data Visualization Works — And When It Doesn’t, asserts:

“For information to provide valuable insights, it must be interpretable, relevant, and novel. With so much unstructured data today, it is critical that the data being analyzed generate interpretable information. Collecting lots of data without the associated metadata — such as what is it, where was it collected, when, how and by whom — reduces the opportunity to play with, interpret, and gain insights from the data. It must also be relevant to the persons who are looking to gain insights, and to the purpose for which the information is being examined. Finally, it must be original, or shed new light on an area. If the information fails any one of these criteria, then no visualization can make it valuable. That means that only a tiny slice of the data we can bring to life visually will actually be worth the effort.

A brilliant young man named Aaron Koblin, a data artist, said that collecting data can actually make us more human. I agree. But data alone is not enough to draw out humanity from humans. Visualization is the way on how to put a heart and a soul to the data being used in interactive eLearning”

In my related blog, eLearning Design for Short Attention Span and Overloaded Learners , I stressed the importance of providing easy navigation in the eLearning process. This is achieved when the navigation design domprehensibleassists learners to access all available types of content at one glance or in a single site. For example, they can click on videos, audio, references, lessons, reviews, programs, lessons, modules, tests, etc. rather than keeping them hidden. Easy navigation is one of the important uses of visualization.

Related blogs:
eLearning Design for Short Attention Span and Overloaded Learners

Learning Facts and Foundational Knowledge with Stories

Jim Stikeleather, When Data Visualization Works — And When It Doesn’t, accessed from the Harvard Business Review