The digital age has ushered in significant changes in how today’s students consume information, often gravitating towards short, engaging, and visually appealing content. This has sparked an intriguing question in the realm of higher education: Can animations be effectively utilised as learning tools? Here’s an exploration of the potential that lies within visual storytelling, specifically animations, and how they can be implemented in a university setting.
The Rise of Short Media
Platforms like TikTok, with its meteoric ascent in popularity, demonstrate that younger generations prefer brief, often whimsical media. This contrast to traditional wordy web pages and leaflets has prompted educators to reconsider the mediums they employ.
Images are a robust part of teaching, given humans’ natural inclination to remember pictures. However, animations take this a step further. Unlike mere pictures, which might require narration, animations deliver stories without ambiguity. They are self-sufficient tools that can be replayed to reinforce connections.
Research indicates that our brains process images much faster than text, and our memory for images consistently outperforms our ability to remember words. With platforms like YouTube providing more than a billion unique visitors a month and web pages with videos being 50 times more likely to rank on the first page of Google, the impact of visual content is immense.
Competing with Instant Media
In a world where students are bombarded with information every minute of every day, the challenge lies in capturing their attention and making complex theories in lectures and seminars stand out. Platforms like TikTok and YouTube have become major competitors for students’ attention, offering micro-entertainment and educational content.
A New Approach with Animations
Organisations, both large and small, are employing animations to convey meaningful and memorable messages. This has even extended into serious topics, with Greenpeace using simple stickman animations to educate viewers about plastic usage, incorporating humour and bright graphics.
Humour has emerged as a powerful tool, not only for increasing trust but also aiding memory and information processing. There’s now a recognition that animations have a place in higher education, without diminishing the professionalism or potency of the message.
Implementing Animations in Higher Education
One example from the Student Success team at the University of Kent showcases how animations can be introduced. Using free tools and simple imagery, a series of videos were created to address topics central to student success. Despite the unconventional method, the videos have found steady usage at key times in the academic calendar.
The strategy aims to rekindle the primary school learning spark, where learning was fun and engaged all senses. The focus is on creating videos that are short, using simple imagery, consistent identity, coherent storytelling, and good humour.
Animations in higher education are not merely a trend; they signify an effective way to make learning more memorable and engaging. They can bridge the gap between the traditional learning approaches and the digitally native preferences of current students.
Whether it’s a playful talking fish animation or more complex visual storytelling, these tools are not just reserved for the under-25 crowd. They offer a versatile and efficient means of conveying complex information and have proven their value in the modern educational landscape.
In a world where attention spans may be dwindling, and the speed of information is only increasing, animations could indeed be the next step in educational evolution, enabling educators to stand out and captivate their audience. Whether or not you are a tech-savvy educator, this new approach might be worth giving a whirl. After all, you could be the next viral teaching sensation!
This post summarises a lecture by Alison Webb on the use of animations as a learning tool in higher education, hosted by Digitally Enhanced Education Webinars at the University of Kent. The lecture is available on YouTube.
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Amir-Homayoun Javadi, PhD
Founder & CEO at 0&1 LTD