Infographics and Learning

“Simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci

INTRODUCTION

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We are built to consume information visually. At least 65 percent of us do, according to research reports! The saying ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ holds good for written textual information. A picture has the power to break down the barriers of languages and cultures while communicating information. However, a simple picture may not be effective for conveying highly complex data, data sets, or information such as the ones below:
•    History of the world
•    Census details of a country
•    Worldwide Internet usage statistics

For these kinds of highly ‘data-centric’ scenarios, ‘infographics’ is the ideal solution. The ability to communicate effectively using data visualization techniques such as infographics has become a very important skill in today’s world.

WHAT ARE INFOGRAPHICS?

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Infographics stand for ‘information through graphics’. It is one of the best ways to present or convey complex information – both qualitative and quantitative – quickly and clearly. Infographics help transform raw data and data sets that are complex to comprehend into intuitive and powerful visual formats (such as maps, charts, graphs, flow diagrams, tables, etc.)

Here is an interesting infographic that explains what an infographic is, from visual.ly – an infographic sharing community:

•    http://visual.ly/why-infographics

Infographic design involves Data Visualization and Information Design. There are broadly five types of visualization categories in infographics: time-series data, statistical distributions, maps, hierarchies, and networking.

As a powerful medium to tell stories with data, infographics also allow us to present data in extremely imaginative ways. A good infographic will be intuitive, neat, and may even include a touch of humor. There are many creative ones that lead us to an immersive experience even! Here is one such example from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) on the Secret Lives of Cats:

•    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-22567526

BBC captured the data to uncover the secret lives of cats using GPS trackers and collar ‘cat cams’! If you are curious to know the secrets of its making, here is the link:

•    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/internet/posts/Cats-Secret-Life-Infographics

Today, web-based development tools have made infographics highly effective and engaging by allowing us to include interactivity, animations, rich graphics, and multimedia. Social media platforms play a key role in popularizing infographics by people sharing these with their network. There are even ones that have gone viral over social networking sites!

Here is an example (designed by Jack Hagley) of one such infographic (on ‘the odds that you exist today!) that has gone viral:

•    http://visual.ly/what-are-odds

HISTORY OF INFOGRAPHICS

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This is a not a newly invented communication tool. In fact, infographics have their roots in the cave paintings of pre-historic times, which were used for storytelling.

When, where, and how did we start using infographics? How have they transformed through years from cave paintings to the present highly intuitive format? Here is a neat infographic that depicts the fascinating story of this evolution – a journey that touches upon interesting stages or periods, great influencers (such as Florence Nightingale), inspiring purposes, tools, etc.

•    http://visual.ly/infographic-timeline-timelines-and-infographics

TYPES OF INFOGRAPHICS

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Infographics can be basically classified as Static or Interactive. Static infographics are used both for print purposes as well as for online uses, whereas interactive ones are used exclusively for online viewing. Here is a highly interactive infographic from The New York Times that depicts a plane crashing into a residential building:

•    http://www.nytimes.com/packages/khtml/2006/10/11/nyregion/20061011_CRASH_GRAPHIC.html

An emerging type of infographic is an ‘instructographic’ – a graphic used to represent step-by-step instructions on how to make something. Here is an instructographic on ‘How to create your own snowglobes’:

•    http://visual.ly/how-create-diy-snowglobes

HOW TO DESIGN A POWERFUL INFOGRAPHIC

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Designing infographics is a creative process. The most important aspects of the design process are:
•    Choosing an interesting topic
•    Ensuring the quality of the information
•    Presenting the information in the most intuitive and interesting way possible

Here is a highly captivating podcast (by ‘The eLearning Coach’) with Alberto Cairo – an infographic expert and the author of the book ‘The Functional Art: An Introduction to Information Graphics and Visualization’ – on the techniques to design infographics:

•    http://theelearningcoach.com/podcasts/10/

SKILLSETS REQUIRED TO CREATE INFOGRAPHICS

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Designing great infographics require multiple skill sets. A great infographic is always a product of well-coordinated teamwork. The following are the skillsets required for developing infographics:
•    Research Skills
•    Data Visualization Skills
•    Graphic Skills
•    Programming Skills

Here is a wonderful infographic that captures the entire US federal budget in a single graphic. This one will help you understand the vast amount of skill sets that go into the making of an infographic:

•    http://visual.ly/death-and-taxes-2014-us-federal-budget

TOOLS TO CREATE INFOGRAPHICS

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The basic tools for drafting infographics are still pen and paper. Though graphic programs such as Adobe Illustrator could be useful for designing infographics, there are many web-based tools available today that help create very effective infographics quickly. Here are the links to a few interesting tools:

•    Visually: http://visual.ly
•    Piktochart: http://piktochart.com/
•    Creately: http://creately.com/
•    Wordle: http://www.wordle.net/
•    Tableau: http://www.tableausoftware.com/public/

INFOGRAPHICS IN LEARNING

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Infographics can help us design better learning programs! In information-heavy situations, these could be used effectively to convey information through visuals, thereby reducing ‘information overload’. Infographics can help make e-learning courses look visually appealing, thereby enhancing retention of content by learners. However, care needs to be taken on the following key aspects in the design stage of courseware development:
•    Proper identification of situations that could benefit from infographics
•    Proper chunking of the content for the infographic
•    Proper balancing of the content with white space
•    Judicial usage of colors

Here is a brilliant article from (from Tom Kuhlmann) on how Infographics can help produce better e-Learning courses:

•    http://www.articulate.com/rapid-elearning/how-can-infographics-produce-better-e-learning-courses/

OTHER RESOURCES

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‘Gapminder’ is an interesting tool that helps unveil the beauty of statistical time series by converting boring numbers into enjoyable, animated, and interactive graphics. Here is the link for you to try:

•    http://www.gapminder.org/

‘Visualize Me’ is another tool that allows you to create a visual representation of your resume. Here is the link for you to check:

•    http://vizualize.me/

Finally, here’s an infographic from Learnnovators on an interesting topic related to Learning and Development (L&D) in the workplace:

•     http://learnnovators.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/70-20-10-Model_Infographics_Learnnovators.jpg

THE BOTTOM LINE

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We believe that ‘infographics’ is the future and not just a fad, simply because it plays a vital role in making information easily available for the common man who cannot understand the complexity of textual information. This is significant at a time when data is growing (as in BIG Data) in enormous amounts day by day. For this reason, we aspire to see the art and science of infographics development being given prominence in Visual Design curriculums all over the academic world.

We believe that infographics is going to evolve further as one of the best ways to disseminate information in our learning programs. We expect to see learning and development professionals embracing more innovative ways of using this technique in their programs in the coming days. We also look forward to seeing publishers of course authoring tools embracing this feature in their applications in more interesting and intuitive ways.

What are the tools and techniques you use to create infographics? What are your experiences on using these in your workplace? How do you think this is going to impact learning? Let us know.

- Santhosh Kumar

 

       

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