Visual design as a holistic experience: how students’ emotional responses to the visual design of instructional materials are formed


Technical Communication and Interactive Design

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Despite the recognized importance of emotion in learning (Kim and Pekrun in Handbook of research on educational communications and technology, 4th ed., Springer, pp. 65–75, 2014), instructional material design research primarily focuses on cognition, tending to ignore the affective dimension (Brom et al. in Educ Res Rev 25:100–119, 2018). To understand the complex phenomenon of how students’ emotional responses to instructional materials are formed, this qualitative thematic study explored factors thought to affect their visual perceptions of instructional materials by utilizing the general framework of approach and avoidance motivation. Four sets of printed instructional materials were prepared, each with the same content drawn from finite mathematics, but with different visual designs. A total of 25 students were invited to a laboratory room and asked to select and study one out of the four sets of materials. The entire process was observed, and students were interviewed to share their experiences. The results showed that students selected instructional materials based on their holistic impression of the materials and on their individual expectations as shaped by previous experiences. For example, students who had math anxiety selected materials that did not look like math textbooks, although opinions regarding which materials did or did not look like textbooks were diverse due to different material experiences. While existing studies tend to be deterministic about the attractiveness of visual materials (e.g., Plass et al. in Learn Instruct 29:128–140, 2014), the present study confirms that there is no universal design that elicits comfortable experiences for everyone. This paper concludes with sets of guidelines and methods to accommodate students’ diverse visual perceptions, which is critical for enhancing learning as a holistic experience.

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Educational Technology Research and Development

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