Could your online course use a boost? Is it lacking the secret spice that could be the difference between students coming away feeling satisfied rather than feeling like something was missing? Maybe there is a complex topic that students are consistently having a difficult time understanding or perhaps a particular concept that begs for more than a Power Point with some bland images collected from the internet. Well, perhaps the missing ingredient is an animation!
A brief history of animation…
In 1914, cartoonist Windsor McCay wowed audiences with his short animated film. Although not the first animation ever produced, Gertie the Dinosaur broke ground by employing new techniques, such as keyframes, loops, and the use of an appealing character, all of which would become standard practice in the creation of future animations. Interestingly, Gertie the Dinosaur also featured an interactive element where McCay would appear to give commands to Gertie which she would then carry out on screen.
Fast forward to 1928 where upstart Walt Disney Studios released the animated short Steamboat Willy and introduced the world to Mickey Mouse. Steamboat Willy also marked the first use of sound integrated onto film in an animation.
The 1930’s saw a boom in animation with Warner Brothers creating its Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes cartoons which featured a cast of outrageous characters including Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck and arguably some of the most enduring pop-culture references ever. I admit, the Looney Tunes were an invaluable supplement to my formal elementary school education!
Disney upped the ante in 1937 with the release of the first feature length animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. With Snow White, the Disney animators ventured into uncharted territory and proved that an animated film could be both visually stunning and a legitimate medium for storytelling. It was also around this time that the Disney animators planted the seeds of what would become the 12 principles of animation, a system of principles and techniques which have endured to this day and serve as the foundation in the creation of animation and motion graphics.
In the 1940’s and 50’s Disney continued to produce classics with films like Bambi and Fantasia while another animator, Ray Harryhausen, perfected his “Dynamation” stop motion technique and brought fantastic monsters to life alongside live actors in films like The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts. Meanwhile, across the Pacific Ocean the Japanese were busy developing their own unique style of animation known as anime.
In 1960, The Flintstones became the first animated prime time television series and paved the way for animated programs like The Simpsons, the longest running series of all time.
In the 1970’s, animated cartoons dominated Saturday morning television. Although the content was mostly aimed at keeping kids engaged while mom and dad slept in, the power of animation’s potential as a learning tool was being explored in the form of short interludes during the commercial breaks. Most notable, Schoolhouse Rock combined animation and music in a powerfully memorable format to teach kids topics like grammar, history, math, and science. Meanwhile, Sesame Street featured groundbreaking animations aimed at teaching through entertainment.
In the 1980’s, the computer arrived and ultimately revolutionized the way that animation was created as well as the way it looked. It was a clunky start but by 1995, Pixar studios released the first entirely computer animated feature Toy Story and there was no looking back. The omnipresence of the internet added fuel to the fire and allowed anyone with a laptop and a story to tell to publish their ideas to the world.
So, what does all of this have to do with online learning? Well, before the pedagogical red flag goes up and you think that animation is just for kids or that it’s too frivolous to occupy space in the world of higher education, read on.
We need look no further than the media that we consume on a daily basis to see how ubiquitous animation is. From television commercials, to the prevalence of the online “explainer” video, to online apps such as Headspace, which utilizes animations to demystify the practice of mindfulness and meditation, animation is proving to be an effective medium to deliver information and get it to stick. Why wouldn’t we want to implement this powerful and available tool in online learning?
A well-crafted animation is a multi-sensory experience that can take a complex or abstract concept and explain it in a way that is concise, understandable, and engaging to the learner. Combining audio/verbal and visual information to illustrate difficult topics allows learners to associate images with concepts and has been proven to actually increase learner understanding and retention.
Additionally, animation can be used to visualize things that would otherwise be impossible or too cost prohibitive to depict with film, text, or still images. Things such as a biological or chemical processes that are invisible to the naked eye, or the ability to look beneath the earth to witness how a plants’ roots grow and utilize nutrients, can effectively be illustrated with animation. Larger scale events like planetary orbits, the hydrologic cycle, earthquake science, or the Russian Revolution can be represented in ways that are much more effective than using still pictures with arrows and text. Does the topic require a horse, a bug, a whale, a tractor, a piece of DNA? There’s no need to worry about the exorbitant costs and time required to train, catch, dive, drive, or dissect…simply animate it! Animated characters, human, abstract, or animals can also add visual appeal and inject humor into a lesson. Finally, and arguably most important: animations are entertaining! If the student is entertained, they are more likely to be engaged in the subject matter and if they are engaged, they are more likely to retain information.
So what’s the next step? The Ecampus Custom Team is here to help you develop your animation. We’ll start by meeting with you to determine a learning objective and to brainstorm ideas for the project. You can view examples of our work to see if a particular style sparks your interest or, if you have a specific aesthetic in mind, we will work with you to refine it. Once we have pinned down a solid direction for the project, we’ll work with you to create a script. The script will serve as the narration for the animated video and is vital as it is an opportunity to distill the content down to its most potent elements. We prefer to keep the maximum length of the animation under 5 minutes and have found this to be most effective for the learner. When the script is finalized, you will come in to one of our studios to record the voice over narration. At this point, it’s full steam ahead and our team begins production on the animation! We’ll check in with you regularly with samples and progress reports to ensure an amazing final product.
-James Roberts, media team, Oregon State University Ecampus