Why we need more visual texts in our teaching and learning


Found this fantastic infographic touting the success of infographics. Reading it ( or more correctly, viewing it) immediately focused my thoughts on the use of visual texts in classrooms today. Click on the screenshot above to view the animated, interactive info graphic that presents  13 reasons why we should use infographics ( or visual texts in general). Unlike other infographics I link to on Mr G Online, I’m not going to discuss the specific points presented – that would be contradictory to the message of the infographic. I’ll let you get your own meaning from it. However, I am going to reflect on how it made me consider the use of visual texts in education.

If we take at face value the research this infographic is based on, human beings are, at heart, visual learners. Our first written languages were image based (hieroglyphics). Our first recorded historical artefacts are cave paintings. Before the Bible was printed, the story of Christianity was predominantly told through Church Art. Museums are based on our desire to see artefacts firsthand.

I in no way want to devalue the importance of reading. Making connections with the printed word promotes creativity and imagination as we strive to interpret the  detailed writings of an author. Words allow us to add our own meaning to written texts rather than have an artist’s or film maker’s interpretation forced upon us. Reading is vital for learning and engaging with the world.

Having said that, though, Literacy Education has been dominated by the written word, and to a lesser extent, spoken word in the form schooling has taken over the 100-200 years of formal education as we know it. In recent curriculum documents we have seen viewing make its long awaited debut, but it still seems to be a poor relation compared to the other strands of Literacy. Improvements are being made, but as teachers do we fall back to written and spoken texts because its easier for us?

Screen Shot 2013-06-16 at 11.02.57 AMIf our brains are visually wired, then it makes sense that we visually present information, instructions, new learning, methods. If half our brain capacity is involved in visual processing but we present our lessons verbally or in written text form, how much are we getting through to our students? If 70% of our sensory receptors are in our eyes, then why do we persist in TALKING so much as teachers? How much more learning could take place if we had much less word based instruction (written or oral) and much more Visual instruction, considering we can make sense of a visual scene (0.01 sec)  so much more quickly than a spoken or written scene.

I’m not saying teachers don’t use visuals – I’m saying we need to A LOT more.




  • In Mathematics we take away the visual representations far too early in our quest to rush in Screen Shot 2013-06-16 at 11.02.25 AMthe algorithm and written methods. Singapore’s visual pedagogy in Maths Education is an example of how it should be done.
  • Textbooks include plenty of visuals but are still dominated by the written text in putting forward the primary content. The visuals seem to be add ons. It should be the other way around. Start with the visuals as the primary content and support it with accompanying text.
  • How often do we complain that our students don’t follow instructions? Or that they don’t remember anything we taught them? How often are these instructions 10 minute monologues based on fifteen points teachers think are important to get across but in reality have no hope in getting across to overloaded children’s memories? Is ‘teaching’ verbally for 10 minutes resulting in students ‘learning’? Yes it takes more time to create and then present a visual alternative but do we waste even more time repeating lessons or instructions that would have been delivered more effectively with visual elements.
  • In our quest for improved standardised test scores, we cram more literacy lessons based on written texts at the expense of the Visual Arts. We spend countless hours teaching children to comprehend worded Maths problems but ignore how much visual representation of number concepts can improve their problem solving techniques.
  • “Flipping the classroom” has its pros and cons. Like any pedagogy it can be done well and poorly. But if at its heart is the ability to provide relevant, purposeful visual resources that can provide  a learner with extra support outside and within the classroom environment, we can’t be doing a bad thing.

Screen Shot 2013-06-16 at 11.01.48 AM

The world of our students IS overloaded with information. The expectations of our curricula are overloaded with information. How we present that information then is important. If it is primarily written and verbal we may well be banging our and our students’ heads against the proverbial brick wall if, despite the best of intentions, that information is not filtering through the brain’s barriers to processing and retention of information. We owe it to ourselves and our students to dig deeper into the theories and statistics highlighted/implied in this infographic to ensure we are giving everyone the best chance to learn. What do you think?

8 thoughts on “Why we need more visual texts in our teaching and learning

  1. Thanks for this post Mark. Would you mind if I provide a link to it in my “Instagram for education” (Connecting people, sharing learning) workshop on Thursday? Visual texts provide a taste of more. Intrigued? Delve in further, explore, engage. I find Instagram is a great way to share visual texts. If educators are concerned about privacy issues, Instagram lends itself to uploading text in the form of quotes or infographics. An old wired lamp sitting on a beach may become a prompt for a narrative or critique exercise for an art class. There are so many uses apart from sharing learning. @7mrsjames http://currentsofmyriver.blogspot.com.au/2013/07/invitation-instagram-for-educators.html

  2. Dear Teachers,Yes VISUALS are important specially at young age,below ten they are essential and specially so even at later stage for those who have language and or other disabilities.However,with overflow of information and technology impact,we need to emphasise the NEED TO WORK WITH HANDS……..I mean woek experience needs to be emphasied.In Hindi we say”KAR KE DEKHO”.This way you not only enjoy your learning but also experience UNDERSTANDING which is difficult to express in words for many students but you as teacher can read it in their GLOWING EYES…..Suhas(Scientist ans Science teacher)

  3. Mark, your post was visually stimulating and echoed the emphisis I like to place on various learning styles within education, especially executive education in business. There is a great deal at stake, yet with so much emphisis placed on written text or droning expert commentary, it’s no wonder that executives, just like their school yard counter parts, often squirm at the thought of a day of education.

    Infographics can certainly create intriquing and compelling connections to ideas. Love the lead and reminder. I use as much emergent learning as possible through large and small group exercises, plus use image cards of thought producing scenes to stimulate conversation and produce the foundations of values.

    Thanks for the visual treat and reminder to do the same for our audiences.

  4. Thank you for this very interesting graphic and essay. Language teachers do well to mix visual with textual clues and decorate their walls with both.

    I would point out that your words make your meanings and intentions much clearer than the visuals alone and thus restrict, control and focus meaning, contrary to the assertion that words allow for greater interpretation (“allow us to add our own meaning to written texts”) which, I certainly agree, they also do. Consider the visual ambiguity implied in Ms. James’ comment — the verbal interpretations of a visual prompt are quite varied. The language of words focuses and restricts the open meanings of the visual.
    But visuals seem limited to quick info, attractiveness, and a sort of emotional short-hand :-), and I’m hesitant to encourage our broader trend toward graphics in place of text.


  5. However, you use many many words to convey your meaning. Not to devalue the importance of visual literacy, but the current fad in education is to devalue the written word. And…. ditto to Bill’s comments.

    • I appreciate the irony of writing a lot of words in my blogposts! I may not have made it as clear as I should have but I certainly agree with you and Bill that we shouldn’t devalue written word and replace it entirely with visual texts. I think we certainly need a combination of both to convey meaning. Sometimes a graphic cant express certain text types. Descriptions and instructions can rely on visuals but an argument or opinion needs the power of words. I was in a way responding to the commonplace lecture based style of teaching that many students find difficult to follow more than the wholesale devaluing of the written word. I love reading and writing great volumes – but I also find infographics, graphs, diagrams and videos very useful for some purposes. Complementary use of both rather than exclusive use of one.

  6. Thank you so much for this wonderful blog and for sharing the amazing infographic. I am an occupational therapist who specializes in the assessment and remediation of children’s handwriting skills. I am not only passionate about handwriting, but I am doubly passionate about vision. They of course go hand-in-hand, as handwriting mastery can only be achieved if the underlying visual, cognitive and physical skills needed are mastered as well. I speak A LOT in my blogs about vision because, as you pointed out, it is the primary way in which we learn…from birth onward. I do agree with your other reader that we must include more use of the hands as well in learning, as the eye-hand connection is a vital one for educational success. My feelings about using visual input more, however, does not extend to technology. I believe that using the hands to write, draw, create or manipulate goes far beyond a keyboard or touch screen. So, visual information presented in that way, for me, is not as effective as pictures that can be held, models that can be manipulated, and drawings that can be copied. OK, so I’m like you…a person of many words! Thanks again. I will share your article so that others may be enlightened as well!

  7. This is totally true; I use visual texts all the time when educating my employees about the importance of software upgrade management, proactive it support, and onsite data backup.
    –Emil Isanov, Etech 7, Inc.

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