Animated GIFs—or image files that act like a short video that loops endlessly—are everywhere these days, on social media, in blogs, and even in e-learning courses! That’s right, instructional designers are using these eye-catching multimedia assets to grab their learners’ attention—and you can too. Check out these ideas to get inspiration on how to incorporate animated GIFs in your courses.

1. As Course Header Images

If your learners have a ton of courses in their dashboard and you want yours to stand out, try using an animated GIF in the course header, like in this example: Mars Curiosity Rover. It’s a surefire way to get your course noticed.

2. As Attention Getters

GIFs are eye-catching. Have you noticed how hard it is to look away even when you’ve already seen the same animation loop 10 times over? That’s what’s so great about them. Their movement naturally draws your learners in and incites them to pay attention.

Not convinced? Take a look at these Rise courses:

See how the GIFs draw you in and make you want to click on the interactive parts? I thought so.

3. To Illustrate Key Messages

But GIFs can do more than just catch your learners’ eye. They can actually help learners better understand the concepts you’re teaching them. Check out the GIFs in this course, for example: An American’s Guide to Driving in France. See how the GIFs support the key messages?

4. To Lay Out the Steps in a Process

If you’re creating a how-to course, you might be tempted to make a video. And that’s definitely one way of doing it! But if people need to replicate the steps one by one, they might need to rewind each step and watch it over and over again. What a pain! Instead of creating a lengthy video or screencast, why not create a GIF of each step, making it easy for people to rewatch the steps as needed, like in this article on how to make coffee?

5. For Comic Relief

If the topic of your course is particularly dry, it might be a good idea to work in some humor to make sure your learners don’t fall asleep. GIFs are a great way to do that! However, be careful to not overdo it. A humorous GIF here and there is one thing; peppering every section of your course with them is another. Here's an example that uses humorous GIFs effectively.

Another thing to keep in mind with humor is that it’s subjective. Test your course out on a trusted coworker or two and make sure they find the GIFs to be both work-appropriate and funny.

The Bottom Line

As with anything, it’s important to keep in mind that too much of a good thing is bad. When using animated GIFs, make sure they’re helping and not hindering the learning process. After all, the goal is to get your learners to focus on the content and retain the key messages.

If you’re sold on using animated GIFs in your courses but aren’t sure how to go about creating your own, check out this tutorial.

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Ian Crook