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Class Up Your Learning With Free Images from the Metropolitan Museum of Art!

In case you missed this news item in February, I decided to do a quick blog post about it.  Those of us creating a lot of eLearning content (and training materials in general) are always looking for inexpensive–or better, FREE–stock images to enliven our learning content.  True, the new Articulate 360 Suite includes a Content Library with some decent images (more on 360 in another post), and Adobe’s package also offers a stock image option–though a lot of that one seems to come with a price tag.  Death to the Stock Photo started out strong, but for me their image bundles have grown less interesting lately.  Likewise for Unsplash–sure, the photos are often swell, but how many 8mb mountain landscape shots do we need in corporate eLearning?

Sometimes help comes from unexpected places.  In this case, it comes from NYC’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.  In February the museum announced it was making a treasure trove of copyright free (or copyright waived) images available to the public on their web site, for FREE.  Another reason to love that venerable institution (and seriously, if you haven’t ever been, it’s the El Dorado of art, and you really should spend a few hours there next time you’re in town).

To check out what’s available, visit their Collection and then check the box for “Public Domain Artworks” from the list of filters on the left.  Once you’ve done that, select other filters on the left to further narrow the results, browse to your heart’s content, and download what you need for your project.  The museum will continue adding images to this free databank over time.

Will you find lots of images of corporate businesspeople?  Well, no.  But if you’re creating a course with a metaphor, you could make great use of some classical art–and “class up” your learning content in the process!

In eLearning Images The Eyes Have It
What if I told you that a major global corporation made a surprising change to its policy regarding use of stock photographs in their company’s eLearning projects, against the advice of its own talent development team?  What if I told you the new policy states that photographic images of people must not show recognizable faces.  If any face is shown, it must be that of a company employee.
Could this happen at your company?  What would it mean to your eLearning?  It would be a mistake for a couple of compelling reasons:
One: Time and time again I have seen companies insist on including images or video of an actual employee, only to have the person in question abruptly leave the firm—or be let go.  Suddenly, the course contains someone no longer representing the firm, and who may have even departed acrimoniously.  There could also conceivably be legal issues to retaining images of that former employee in the courseware.  As a rule, you’re leaving yourself open to time-consuming and expensive revisions.  The same is true for in-house voiceovers, by the way.  Why go there?
Two: If you take a course that has human figures in it, but you never see faces full-on, what is your reaction likely to be?  What’s missing? Something enormously important.  The eyes.  Whether or not you believe that “the eyes are the windows of the soul,” when it comes to communicating, nothing speaks more universally and clearly than our eyes.  I’m an actor; I know.  You’re an audience member and a human being—I bet you know, too.  So if you don’t ever offer your learner eye contact in your eLearning, you’re missing a HUGE opportunity to build empathy and connection.  After all, in asynchronous eLearning, there’s no instructor at the front of the room making eye contact, and making sure the learner is engaged.  Among other tools, we need to rely on a compelling professional voiceover, and on images of people to whom our learners can immediately relate.  If you don’t emphasize the human factor in your training—regardless of the topic—then you are further distancing your content from your intended audience.  You are pushing away the very people you want to engage, persuade, and motivate. Your content may look sleek and elegant, with all those shadowy, non-specific figures.  But your content will be missing a life-giving glimpse of soul.  Does that make good business sense?
Woman with electric guitarTake a look at the two pictures I’ve included with this post.  Both have a very positive energy, which is great.  The image of the woman jamming on the electric guitar could absolutely have a place in your eLearning.  But how much emotional impact does it generate compared to the other, where you can see the woman’s and the child’s eyes—in fact, they’re looking right at you?  Which image makes more of an emotional connection with you?  Which one resonates more with you?
Young mother and daughter in cityI didn’t make up this scenario; it actually happened at a major corporation recently.  What was the executive reasoning behind that company’s policy change?  They are still allowing use of stock images, so it’s not about wanting only custom images.  Do they not realize that emotional connection is our greatest “secret weapon” in eLearning?  (As it is in theatre, film, advertising, and life in general.)
I’ve been in the eLearning field for over 15 years, I’ve been a professional actor for over 30 years, and I’ve been observing other people all my life.  And if there’s one thing I know, it’s this: when it comes to communicating, the eyes have it.  Here’s hoping the executives at that corporation realize their mistake and put the decisions for eLearning course design back where they belong: in the hands of the company’s learning and talent development experts.  And if executives at your company are trying to do the same thing, make them read this article.  Maybe it will help them see the light.