One of the first design decisions you need to make as a content designer is what media you will use to create your content.
There are five key media types with which you need to be familiar. Each comes with its own series of pros and cons. In this article, we will review each one individually.
The media types are:
- Images and Graphics
- Live Presentations
This is certainly the most common, and probably the easiest to create. You see it in magazines, books, e-mails, web sites, and text messages.
If you want to explore a topic in depth or offer your learners complex analysis of the information, text may be your best solution. Text is very inexpensive to create. Therefore you can be fairly flexible in how you use and deliver it. Another good thing about text is that you can easily deliver it on the web, as well as a mobile device. Within text, you can even create hyperlinks to other resources.
From a corporate standpoint, we create a lot of text content today. Most of your Subject Matter Experts will be very versed in delivering content this way – even though the content may need to be cleaned up and clarified before you can deliver it to your learners.
A downfall of text is that most people have gotten so used to seeing lots of text that they don’t read it anymore. They tend to skim the content, rather than absorbing all of it. This is certainly not a memorable way to deliver an important message to your learners.
IMAGES AND GRAPHICS
We are all familiar with this media type. It is a visual that represents a concept, idea, or process. It can also represent a job role or delineate sections of content. This can be a large, like a full-screen image or an infographic. It can also be small, like an icon.
Typically, an image is a photograph. A graphic is art created for a specific purpose (diagram, icon, flowchart, etc.)
The best part about using images or graphics is that they can quickly make a complex topic easy to understand. When this occurs, it becomes something the learner can use as a tool to retain the information. Good images also have the capability to evoke emotion or signify a concept in a memorable way.
There is a bonus that comes with using this kind of media – typically an image is universally understood by most languages and doesn’t require the ability to read.
From a negative standpoint, if you intend to use this type of media, you need a photographer, the ability to purchase stock photos, or an acceptable level of graphic design skills. Too many times, content creators lean on poor clip art because that is what they have available. Poor imagery creates noise and can create confusion for your learners.
Typically this is an auditory medium that contains voice, music, sounds, or a combination of these. Typically, in learning content, this media type usually appears as a discussion or narration. Think of podcasts or radio shows when you think of this media type.
This is a fantastic medium for storytelling. Your learners have the ability to use their imagination to create situations around what they are listening to. A really good example of this is what you hear when you listen to Story Corp on National Public Radio (NPR). Audio can impart emotion and a sense of personality.
Combining audio with images or graphics can create a very powerful communication tool.
One of the cool things about audio is that your learners can listen and absorb content while they are doing something else at the same time, such as commuting to and from work.
The challenge with audio is that you must have good audio. Poor audio can be very distracting for your learners and negate your entire message. It typically requires some basic equipment, such as a recording device and a reasonably good microphone. This is becoming easier with most of us having a mobile device on us all the time – you can typically download a decent audio recording app at little to no cost.
For a learner, is hard to preview or skim to get a quick overview of the content. If your learners are in an office environment, they may also require headphones to take advantage of this media type.
If you have watched YouTube or television, you have experienced video. This is becoming a media that is more and more popular due to an increased capability to deliver it to your learners. Video typically includes audio, visuals, and n-screen movement of some sort.
Video can create extremely dynamic experiences for people and engage viewers for a reasonable amount of time. Video can communicate body-language. Video also includes simple animations. It allows you to share complex information in a very short amount of time. Many times, you will find video combined with narration or interview voice-over to enhance the content.
Video used to be out of most of our price range – however, with everyone owning a mobile device, we have immediate access to high-definition video recording capabilities. With some inexpensive video editing tools, you can create a very attractive piece of media for your learners that can help them retain the content.
On the flip side of this, even though you can capture video easily, you typically need some level of skill with editing software if you intend to create a compelling final product. Many of the videos on YouTube have more editing than you realize – they make it look easy, which is part of their charm. Voice-overs can be difficult to capture and require several takes to achieve a successful result. If you intend to hire a professional to create your videos, it can still be an expensive medium to work in.
This is the non-recorded, spoken word. You would experience this in a classroom, at a conference, or on a live webinar. Typically, this is a real-time experience for your learners.
This can be an engaging delivery medium because the learner is less likely to tune out the message. It allows for a collaborative environment between multiple people. Because the learners have the capability to ask questions, it offers a good option for explaining complex concepts.
You can record a live presentation and re-broadcast it repeatedly. It can also include all media types – you can distribute printed text documents, play a video, use imagery in the presentation or draw them on a flip-chart or white board.
On the negative side for this media type, a live presentation requires a presenter that has a higher level of knowledge about the topic and the ability to successfully engage the learners. This is a communication skill that not everyone possesses.
Live presentations are also typically limited to the live audience. If you want to distribute it some way beyond that group of people, you need some sort of recording equipment and the ability to share that recorded content after you capture it.
WHICH IS BEST?
There is no right answer for this question. Your content and you and your learners’ capabilities should drive the type of media you choose.
For example, if you don’t have the capability to deliver video, you probably don’t want to create video-based content. If your content requires a companion visual, audio is probably a poor media choice to select.
WHAT MEDIA DO YOU USE?
Do you have a favored media? Do you find that you mix your media choices? What is your process for determining which to use?