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Let’s Talk Video… Animations


Considerations for Using Animations in E-Learning

One of the biggest components of creating an effective learning deliverable is to know how to grab and keep a learner’s attention — doing so makes sure learners engage and stay present throughout the training. To do that, we use all sorts of techniques, such as WIIFM statements (what’s in it for me), attractive aesthetics, and compelling interfaces that encourage the learner to keep going. Another great way to grab attention is by creating movement, especially with animations.

As covered in our first Let’s Talk Video blog, the term animation is quite broad and doesn’t necessarily mean something is a video. For example, the simplest form of animation (motion, sound, or some combination of all of these) is available in most e-learning authoring tools, such as Storyline 360 and Captivate, which have features built in that allow you to design and build animated objects on a timeline. Items can fade, blur, spin, grow, shrink, move, and more. This movement can be combined with narration and also can include user interactivity (e.g., button presses, slider controls, drag-and-drop, etc.). And what you end up with looks a lot like a video.

Today, I’m going beyond the simple form of animation and am specifically focusing on animations developed as videos, including how each component affects the complexity and level of effort needed to create them.

Level of Detail

One of the biggest factors that influence the time and cost of an animation is the level of detail you’re looking to achieve. The simpler the visual elements, the easier the animation is to build. Let’s look at this a bit further.


Think about the images that are at the forefront of your animation. These can be characters, graphs, or specific objects such as device screens or machine parts. You need to be clear about the level of detail necessary to make the animation effective.

For example, if it’s a text and image explainer video, the foreground may not need to have much detail at all, and most items could be for visual interest or emphasis. Foreground items can include text, icons, and objects used for visual “fluff” or relevance to the content. (See examples below.) On the more custom side, you may want human characters that look unique and help narrate the video along the way — maybe the character is even supposed to resemble a real person.

Example of a foreground with a lower level of detail in an animation
Example of a foreground with a higher level of detail in an animation

If you want a show-and-tell-style animation however, you may need to get to extreme levels of detail. For example, if you’re mocking up a part of a machine, you’ll want the level of detail to match what learners will experience in their real-world setting. Think of an exploded-view drawing, where you’re trying to understand the smaller components of a whole, including how they fit and work together.


Another aspect you may not initially think of (but our graphic designers/animators do) is what goes on behind the forefront of the animation. Sure, it can be a blank slate, but maybe it’ll look better with b-roll video, images, a graphic representation of an office, or a hand-drawn cityscape. Again, the level of specificity you’re looking for should be taken into consideration, even when talking about the background of an animation.

The image below shows an example of how background elements —  the calculator, the coffee, and even the bubbles and reflection in the coffee — add layers of visual interest to an animation.

Visual Source Materials

In addition to the level of detail in your animation, you’ll want to consider the starting point. And by this I mean, what visual source materials do you have? Are your materials:

  • Existing and usable? Meaning, can the image be placed right into an animation or does it need to be edited? For example, images need to be high-resolution, and graphics need to be editable (i.e., in a vector format).
  • Existing but are inspiration only? This can mean many things, but some examples include a graphic that needs to be rebuilt, system screenshots that can be used as the basis for graphic illustrations, or a headshot of a person who wants to be the inspiration for a character.
  • Non-existent? This isn’t a bad thing — it just means that time needs to be spent to come up with the visual components of your animation. For example, you may want a graph to visually explain a concept, but you only have the raw data. Or, you have the content written to be the basis of an animation, but no real assets to use for the visual output.

And obviously, you can have a mixture of all the above.

Level of Movement

Level of movement is similar to level of detail but is probably something you wouldn’t proactively think of when requesting an animation. Animations are very different from live action videos because you’re trying to create movement and visual interest instead of working with what’s in front of you. Here are some things our graphic designers/animators consider:

  • For human characters:
    • The level of facial expressions or mouths moving in synch with narration
    • How the body gestures if a character is “talking” during narration
    • The level of detail to use with movements, such as walking, waving, pointing, or picking things up
  • For graphics:
    • The level of synching with narration
    • Do individual items appear drawn on, built on, or show on the screen as a whole?
    • In the background, are items static (like a building) or moving (like trees blowing in the wind)?

If you’re a little tight on time but really want to incorporate animation as a video into your custom e-learning course, you can reduce the movement of the individual components. For example, you don’t need to see a character using all five fingers to wrap around a coffee mug to pick it up. Or, hand-drawn elements can come on in larger portions mimicking drawing, but you don’t need to see each individual line appearing from start to finish.

A note about synching: As you might imagine, the more detailed an animation is and the more synching that’s required, the larger the impact is for making changes during review cycles. This is why it’s imperative that the accuracy and completeness of content is solidified during scripting before animation begins.

There are two additional Innovative Learning Group blogs that have more information about videos, which I’ve linked to below. Between the three, I hope I’ve helped demystify what videos are and the considerations involved in creating them.


  • Let’s Talk Video, which introduced some of the logistics of using videos in e-learning, including software considerations and the process of making a video.
  • Let’s Talk Video, Take 2, which covered three common types of videos and the instructional rationale for using each.
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