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Using Color Psychology to Build Effective Training Curriculum


Close your eyes and think about your favorite shirt or dress. What colors do you see? Close your eyes again and picture your training room or elearning template. What colors are you using? How are you using them? Did you know that your brain responds to each color in a different way and that you can use this fact to create an intended response from your learner? In this post we will share recent discoveries relating to how the brain processes color and how a deliberate and informed use of color can support the learning process


Color is Processed in Multiple Parts of the Brain

Neuroscientists have found over the years that from the color center of the brain, information travels simultaneously to areas that are responsible for detecting motion, shapes, edges and transitions. This happens even with subjects who are color blind. They may not be able to recognize different colors, but their brains still know how to use this information to gain a more nuanced view of the world. This parallel use of color in multiple regions of the brain suggests that our response to color is far more significant than what we previously supposed.


Color Aids Pattern Recognition

Researchers also have found that we perform 5 to 10% better on standardized pattern recognition tests when they are administered in color rather than in black and white. The use of color also can boost long-term memory, presumably because color forces the brain to encode and store the information in more regions of the brain. This suggests that our ability to discern color is linked to our ability to survive in the natural environment. For example, think about all the different colors of green you would have to recognize if you lived in a jungle. Each shade might indicate food, shelter or danger. So we have developed multiple ways to use color information as a learning tool.


The Brain Fills in the Color on Black and White Images of Known Objects

Another group of scientists discovered that when we look at photos of objects that are known to us, our brain fills in the expected color, even though it isn’t there. Although we see the image of the banana is black and white, the brain accesses our complete memory of bananas, including the fact that they are usually yellow.


So how do these findings affect how we learn? There are multiple ways that color recognition affects the learning experience:

1. Color increases attention. Presenting material in color causes the learner to pay more attention than presenting a black and white page. Since we are always competing for the learner’s attention, this fact alone makes it worth printing your training materials in color.

2. Color-coding related or similar items helps the learner recognize and remember connections. A study involving chemistry students showed that pairing colors with chemicals/processes helped students understand and remember complex chemical reactions better than viewing the same information in black and white. A similar approach could help learners make better sense of a complex series of tasks.

3. The color of your classroom walls will affect learners’ moods and performance. A study in Science magazine suggests that red stimulates accuracy and attention to detail, while blue may stimulate creativity. Yellow has been found to be preferred by students performing a repetitive task and seems to help the brain resist boredom.


The Bottom Line on Color and Learning

What’s the “bottom line” for learning professionals? While psychology and neuroscience continue to study our reactions to different colors, we can focus on a few simple conclusions: Use as much color as your budget will support for training materials. Use the same color consistently for related concepts or topics. Match the color of your classroom or screen to the type of task being performed or demonstrated.

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