One of my goals as an eLearning manager is to facilitate collaboration and efficient communication between my staff members, our clients, and their subject matter experts (SME).

eLearning managers need to consider ways to encourage their staff to use visual representation tools for portraying concepts to each other, project sponsors, and SMEs at each stage of development and testing. Is the use of visual representation or information visualization really common sense, or do we need new tools and standards to help guide us in communicating?  Let me describe a recent conversation I had with my son about how he has applied a visual representation tool.

My 25-year-old son works as a business analyst for a medical records implementation team (great industry to work in right now). He faces the constant challenge of communicating with busy medical personnel to convert various aspects of the clinic workflow to a computerized record-keeping system. The challenges are comparable to working with a sponsor and subject matter expert to build a highly interactive simulation or complex online activity.

You might already be thinking of some of the situations he confronts:

  • Change management tasks
  • New vocabulary to comprehend for both parties
  • A learning curve for new tasks
  • A need for good communication and collaboration


His approach involves drawing out a “workflow” using Visio after consulting with staff people at the medical clinic. This workflow details every work task and how it will be translated or transformed in the new electronic system of patient medical records. However, he brought up the fact that “no one can easily “read” it once it is done, and no one uses it” after completion. So I asked him—is it an effective communication tool when you’re meeting with stakeholders? Does it engage them? Does it help clarify any misunderstandings about processes? Does it give a baseline from which to brainstorm and come up with new processes? He replied that it did make conversations over specific details easier. “Everyone is looking at the big picture and then zooming in on the details for specific discussion topics”.


It may be common sense for a lot of us, but you know “a picture is worth a thousand words.”   Above you see notes from a whiteboard brainstorming session. Those of us in the eLearning business know about Mayer’s (2001) research and multimedia principle that suggests individuals learn better from words and pictures than words alone. But how often do staff members come out of a meeting without a diagram or even notes? How often does a staff person come back with flip charts to help record progress or a jpeg of the white board?   If your staff is meeting, visualizing, and documenting, then they are already into “information visualization” and they may have their set of tools. Do you as an eLearning manager set a culture that promotes the use of visual representation tools?

My favorite information visualization tool is a meeting agenda on PowerPoint. Meeting participants are better able to share pictures, artwork, flow charts and outlines based on the expectation that each meeting will utilize a slide show.  Whether you use an Excel spreadsheet, a workflow diagram, circuit diagramming, or jpegs of whiteboard-induced brilliance, it is important to promote techniques to visually represent what your teams are talking about.

What communication tools are you using?