Tips and Insights

Multimedia Training Materials without a Hitch

I recently watched a movie I haven't seen in a long time—The Birds impressed yet again with Alfred Hitchcock's ability to captivate with his camera manipulation, his focus on audience involvement, and his story's simplicity.

I'm not even going to suggest that creating multimedia training materials and job aids is anything like creating a movie, especially a Hitchcock masterpiece. I do, however, see some parallels with his techniques.

For one, developers (or directors) are limited only by their imagination. Computers and technology have made creating videos, animated documents, and simulations available to the average Joe, and if you have techno-geeks in your organization (like we do), anything's possible.

A second similarity is that audience matters. Hitchcock counted on—and courted—the audience's interaction with the suspense on the screen. Though suspense isn't typical in interactive computer-based training (CBT) programs, there still needs to be a focus on gaining the viewers' attention and giving them what they need to understand and learn the material.

Finally, Hitchcock realized a simple story could be more effective than a convoluted, confusing script. Simplicity in work instructions, job aids and training materials is equally important. A multimedia document should include only the information the user or learner needs, employing illustrations in place of text wherever possible.

Knowing these attributes, when would multimedia—which allows viewers to explore the information through a variety of formats including text, graphics, video, images, narration, music, sounds and animation—be effective as a format for your work instructions or technical communications?

  • When you need to describe a process that can't be explained with text or static images, animation or video allows you to show fluidity.
  • When orientation is cumbersome or dangerous, 3D animation can move the viewer through parts or areas without physically entering them (think of a nuclear reactor).
  • When black and white images aren't enough, high-end color graphics can add clarity.
  • When you need to see concepts or intangibles, 3D allows you to visualize those spaces.
  • When training is involved and retention is imperative, simulations and interactive testing can target a learner through multiple senses—seeing, hearing, and touching—a more effective way to learn than reading alone.

Animations, CBTs, PDFs or web-delivered content can deliver a punch, even if you're not Hitchcock. Just remember to let the end user’s needs dictate the media you develop.



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Renee Callies

Renee provides training and direction for Explainers clients regarding writing, editing and developing the standards for the development of work instructions. Renee's 12 years in education give her a strong background in teaching writing techniques and developing usable, consistent standards. She served as a Co-Director of the Third Coast Writing Project at Western Michigan University from 1997 to 2006.  View more of her writing at