All that said - I'm still not sure I really get the connection between visual thinking and eLearning. I asked Tom to help fill me in and so we've had a little dialog on it. I thought it would be worth sharing a bit of our conversation and inviting others to join in.
When creating an e-learning module, there are dozens, maybe even hundreds of pages of material required to document what is to be created. In some organizations, they have replaced the documentation with storyboards which are certainly a step in the right direction, visually. However, even storyboards can be complex to create, hard to update, and even harder to develop from. Visual thinking offers opportunities to streamline that development process especially during the review and approval stages. Very rarely will someone read pages of text, where a visual that communicates the same message provides a quick way for people to review and then respond. The process also benefits from the creation of personas, visual stories about the learner, which help keep the learner the focus of the design.I agree with Tom about using multiple Persona (Personas? Personi?) to help focus the design effort, but that's design 101, not really visual thinking. I definitely agree with creating representations of what the screens will be and/or storyboards. Again, design 101. So, what the heck is he talking about with this? Isn't this standard design stuff?
Tom goes on ...
Uh, Tom, this is exactly user interface design. There's got to be more, right? Or am I missing something in what he's talking about. I'm not saying good user experience design is not important - it is hugely important, especially for a lot of the projects that I work on. But, I have many sources for help with user experience - I'm not sure I get how that could be the focus of VizThink.
Another portion of visual thinking is usability, information design, and interactivity. How often have you looked at an e-Learning module and not know what to do? Colors are drawing your eyes in many directions, text fills the screen and is hard to use, buttons work sometimes and not others with no indication of why, the interactivity does reinforce the message, the visual (often clipart or a stock photo) are irrelevant and distracting…these are all signs that more attention needed to be paid to the visual (and visual thinking) aspects of the module. The use of space, color, images, text, and interactivity are all significant portions of the visual thinking space, and if not done well they can inhibit and even prevent learning from occurring.
Finally, he gets to what I expected him to discuss...
To me, when you talk visual thinking, I normally think of the wonderful diagrams that people can create from your concepts (see Marilyn Martin's picture of my eLearning 2.0 concepts).
Finally, and maybe most importantly, visualization can enhance almost every learning opportunity. When they are well designed, visuals communicate more information, more quickly, with more retention and longer recall. The application of visual thinking is across all art styles from photos and video to sketching and illustration to virtual worlds and even product design. New tools allow annotation, collaboration, and co-creation visually. Rather than talking about doing something, people use the creative process to solve problems, generate ideas, and streamline processes.
There certainly is big value from being able to take concepts and turn them into diagrams, pictures, visualizations. Kathy Sierra is a master of that. I've always felt that there was a certain skill required to do that where you can crystalize the important issues, simplify, picture them and then render. I'm sure that Tom's conference will talk a lot about this.
And, certainly if you are able to do that, you can create more powerful learning tools. Just like you can create more powerful marketing tools, communication tools, etc.
So, again, I highly respect Tom and the conference. And maybe it's as simple as the fact that a lot of what we do in training, learning, education is try to crystalize the important points, and turn it into an engaging, meaningful learning experience. So, maybe it's a parallel and very useful skill. But I have this sense that Tom thinks there's more to it.
And, I just am still not sure I get what he's seeing? What am I missing here?