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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.
Giving Stock Photos a Unique Look for Your Learning Projects

Ever since Microsoft discontinued their clip art gallery, we’ve all been scrambling to find inexpensive or free stock photos. But in a way, this is a good thing. The images in that clip art gallery were looking dated and dull. And once you start checking out other options, you realize there’s a gorgeous world of visual inspiration from a much larger pool of talented artists and photographers.

You may already have sites you like. I have been finding photos that work for me at Unsplash.com  and Deathtothestockphoto.com. Both offer free sets of images every week or so.  The latter also offers a fee-based subscription plan.  If you want to swim in a larger pool, check out Stockup stock photos.com; it’s a handy collection of free stock photo sites.  Whatever sites you use, always check the permissions for each image. Some require attribution, some don’t.

Once you find some good sites, how do you know what images to pick?  Here’s a suggestion: if your course’s script doesn’t already include a theme on which you can build, you can still look for groups of images that have a common vibe to them and create your own visual metaphor for your course.

For example, suppose you’re doing a course on awareness, or alertness, or even just communication. It’s easy to find a series of images involving cups of coffee.  Add some text, and you have a title page.  But you also will need to make some choices about font and font color. You could do something like this:

stocksample1

But it’s not as legible as it needs to be.  So you could lighten the image and try a different font color:

stocksample2

The bottom line of course needs to be readability, so play around and see what looks best. If you don’t already have in mind a color scheme, you can easily create one, even without using Photoshop or a similar high-end tool: simply drop your image onto a PowerPoint slide, right-click it and easily alter the photo’s look dramatically with the image editing tools:

stocksample3

And once you settle on a visual style you like, you can alter your other images to align with that style. For instance, here’s an image I can use for all my section introductions:

stocksample4

As you can see, with a little creativity you can collect free stock photos from various sites and turn them into a cohesive visual theme for your project, which will give your course a real touch of class. Now that you’ve been released from using the same old clipart in every project, get out there, explore your options, and have fun being creative! And if you have free stock photo sites you love, share the URL in the Comments below. Thanks!

PS: Tom Kuhlmann over at Articulate and I seem to have had similar things on our minds this week. For more on finding and using stock photos, check out Tom’s blog.