Get Animated!

Engaging learners is a key element of any e-learning. However, for some, e-learning can be as dry as burnt toast. The best instructional designers know that keeping learners involved is half the battle when it comes to absorbing information. Even if the subject matter is drier than overcooked chicken that’s been left out in the Sahara next to a dehumidifier for a month, there are still methods an instructional designer can employ to make the e-learning more engaging. Enter the wonderful world of animation.

There are many animation techniques, but I’m going to focus on three that instructional designers should take into account when designing e-learning: transitions, animated UI, and characters.


A transition is an animation that takes something previously invisible and makes it visible. For reference, think of the titles that appear in movies or the text that flashes in during a news broadcast. Transitions are simple, yet extremely powerful, animations that can make or break an e-learning. I’m not talking about the typical slide transitions found in PowerPoint. I’m talking about withholding content (text or graphic) and transitioning it in when the audio cues it. No audio? No fear. Transitions still can be used to make content appear more visually exciting — just as long as they don’t take more than a second or so (because waiting is never fun). So, instead of plastering all your content on a screen at once, have content appear in focused chunks. Just be sure to avoid crazy transitions that could be distracting to learners. Fades and Fly-ins always work well, while Spins and Bounces are the ‘Comic Sans’ of transitions.


The UI, or user interface, is the collection of buttons and toolbars learners use to navigate e-learning. As a media developer, I’ve worked on many projects where it’s acceptable to make active buttons using static icons. Boring, unappealing UI is a huge missed opportunity to bring more life into e-learning. You gain three benefits when you have buttons that change appearance when the learner hovers a mouse over them or when they’re clicked.

  1. Animated buttons appear more intuitive to learners. Navigating an e-learning course becomes far easier when learners have no doubt that certain shapes and icons are indeed clickable buttons.
  2. Interactive buttons are a great way to add more color to your design. Even on screens with basic color schemes, a button that changes into a bright contrasting color when the learner moves the mouse over it, does wonders for the design aesthetically.
  3. Buttons go a long way in helping learners interact with modules — and with interaction comes interest.


If your design allows for it, incorporating characters can add a great amount of interest to a course and lend themselves nicely to a storytelling approach. In e-learning, a character is simply a personification of a human, animal, or thing that either talks and/or takes part in the narrative of the learning. A character can be a photo of a real person or a drawing, and can be as basic as a single graphic. A character can be a visual aid, which can make a screen more appealing. After all, a picture of anything can spice up a text-filled slide.

Characters also provide context for a subject, taking a topic out of the abstract and framing it in a practical scenario. Characters are very useful when the course involves social skills or ethical dilemmas. That being said, any new character added to a course would greatly benefit from a wide range of emotions. Plan to have several different graphics of the character for when it’s happy, pondering, celebrating, or any other emotional state that fits the tone of the screen it appears in.

Animation can be a powerful tool to enhance learning. Even these small tips can go a long way to break up the monotony and engage learners. And your learners may be amazed to discover all they’ve learned by the end of the course and how much they’ve enjoyed learning it.

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