The association between animation and kids is strong. Many of us grow up watching cartoons for entertainment, and some of us were sat in front of the TV as youngsters for the mildly reviled ‘educational cartoons’. But the uses of animation for education are far more wide-reaching and a lot more entertaining than many realise, finding modern applications within work, hobbies, and new technologies, while still holding the power to teach much younger audiences the basics of life.
1) Simple instructions for new users of apps
It’s easy to think only of self-contained videos when thinking of the word ‘animation’. But in actual fact some of the most powerful uses of animated media are occurring within smaller, interactive spaces. The early 2000’s saw the rise of experimental flash games, and the later 2000’s saw flash animated ads (somewhat infamously) take the online stage. Nowadays we’re seeing more of a lean toward user friendliness and ease of experience, especially within mobile apps, resulting in an upswing of desire for visually simple yet engaging graphics to guide the way of new users.
Mindfulness and meditation app Headspace uses swipeable screens with a stylised graphic character and a very minimal amount of text to welcome brand new users into the idea of meditation before offering the guided audio. A short animated video also accompanies many of the welcome screens to further illustrate mindfulness techniques.
2) Explaining new ideas and concepts
Undoubtedly one of the most powerful aspects of the internet is the vast amount of information available, allowing people around the world to encounter new ideas, skills and information simply from watching a quick youtube video. With such a vast amount of material out there it can be easy to reach information overload, which is why animation is a great aid in visualising (and helping the memory to retain) this information.
Some videos provide a brief information spot as a gateway to learning about a wider topic, like this animation about the life cycle of an Australian bank note (https://www.explanimate.com.au/project/rba/). Some videos aim to explain well-known concepts in layman’s terms, like these philosophical ’60 Second Adventures In Thought’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5zVaFjSxAZs). Others explore new ideas and make connections for discussion, like this animated explainer of Bill Maher’s essay on the Superbowl’s relation to socialism (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNbMPz5CPY8). The advantage of animation in all these examples is the focussed visualisation of the audio track, helping to emphasise key words and ideas without the distraction of complex backgrounds and background characters.
3) Learning new skills and instructions through tutorial videos
Whether in workplace training videos or hobbyist youtube tutorials, animation has an important place in being able to demonstrate what live-action physically or financially cannot. Medical, aviation, space, engineering and mechanical fields contain technical inner workings which can often be totally unviable to film. The inner workings of a mechanical system or an internal physical response, for example, are easier to depict with animation than capture with a camera, but can be crucial to understand visually.
Animation offers the additional benefit of easily adding symbols and annotations which can clarify the process: rotating arrows animating the direction a valve needs to be turned, for example, or coloured hotspots showing how different jet streams will affect a flight time.
4) Teaching basic skills in early education
There’s a number of good reasons animation is so often used within early childhood education:
Conclusion: How is a good educational animation made? (except when it does)
The animator/director has a number of responsibilities for an animation to be effective in educating an audience, no matter the age. For effective learning the animation needs to visually highlight the most relevant information. A good understanding of the elements of design is necessary here to manipulate (in a good way) the eye of the viewer into spotting, and mentally processing, the right visual cues. Along these lines it’s also necessary not to go too fast, not to overwhelm the viewer, and not to overcomplicate the visuals. The goal with educational animation is strong comprehension, and with a professional understanding of how design, movement, and sound affect an audience, this goal is well within reach.
Written by Maree Railton.