Saturday, March 10, 2007

Colour in Distance Learning Materials

Colour is one of the things that human beings recognize in their very early stage of life. We find colour everywhere around us. Our capacity to identify colour makes us capable of interpreting the quality of the object we perceive. In fact, colour defines the character and shape of objects in everyday life. It is a well established fact that people prefer information presented in colour. Younger children particularly like coloured texts with pictures. There are a number of research studies that show the effectiveness of colour illustrations and visual displays in instructional materials. Colour also helps in drawing the attention of the learners to a particular section or part of a graphics in the learning material. In visual display containing figures of one colour, a figure of different colour attracts our attention. Also coloured pictures nearly represent reality than Black & White pictures. Colour helps us to recognize objects and relate them to some concepts, ideas, and other objects in the world. Research studies also indicate that the use of colour in graphics/ pictures facilitate learning if it is directly related to the instructional objectives. Thus, colour is used in distance learning materials for two purposes – to aid in the instruction and for aesthetic and motivational reasons (attention seeking).

Printing of any colour should have good contrast to have legibility. Black ink in white paper gives excellent contrast and legibility. Therefore, textbooks and self-learning materials are normally printed in black ink. Wherever pedagogically required, graphics/ pictures are printed in colour to facilitate learning. Sometimes a second colour is also used in the learning material, as it is useful to draw the attention of the learners to a specific part of the material that has pedagogic utility. Most of the time at IGNOU, the Self Assessment Questions (SAQs) are printed in a separate colour or a colour screen tint. Interestingly, research shows that highlighted colour has been found to be more effective in terms of recall and learning. Thus a second colour or its screen tint should be used in self learning materials to highlight the section of SAQs and important keywords in the text. It is also advised that colour should be used consistently to help the learner to recognize the importance of a particular section. However, recently the use of a second colour in the self-learning materials (except for graphics and pictures) has been discontinued at IGNOU.

In order to make a case for the use of a second colour in the self-learning materials, a quick action research has been done to calculate its cost to support decision making. Four different hypothetical cases were done for 1000 and 5000 print runs. The calculations are made for a block of 80 pages, and in all cases the paper cost and the cover printing cost remains constant. In the 80 pages of manuscript, it is assumed that there will be 4/5 units that may have about 25 SAQs spread evenly in the material. Thus out of the 80 pages 25 pages may have second colour.

For the 1000 print run the difference between lowest and highest is less than four rupees per copy; while the difference is only Rs. 1.19 for a 5000 print run. This indicates the savings of the University will further decrease in courses that have more than 5000 print runs.

The cost calculations and the instructional value of a second colour definitely call for a rethink on the present policy. However, I shall be quick to add that use of colour should be done carefully as about 3.7 % of Indians have colour vision deficiency.. It is estimated that one in 12 men and one in 200 women have some form of colour vision deficiency (
RCI). The most common colour vision deficiency is the failure to distinguish between red and green (see wikipedia). Therefore, in self learning materials, the use of red and green in cover and inside text should be avoided.

Lastly, I would like to emphasize that colour give a presentable look to the study materials making the efforts of instructional designers and course writers look aesthetically appealing.

Waller, R., Lefrere, P., & Macdonald-Ross, M. (1982). Do you need that second color? IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, PC-25 (2), 80-85.

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