Visual learning has come a long way from the days when an instructor’s best option was a clunky overhead projector gathering dust when not in use.
Research confirms the enormous impact visual aids have in supporting and improving learning outcomes. And today’s technological advancements mean that new tools are constantly emerging, like videos, interactive websites and infographics.
Thanks to the accessibility of easy-to-use visual design tools like Venngage, infographics can support visual learning without the need for intimidating computer programs or even advanced knowledge of graphic design or data visualization.
Let’s explore some of the ways infographics help support visual learning and how you can take advantage of this modern instructional tool. You can also find infographic templates you can make your own right now and customize using Venngage’s Infographic Maker.
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Table of Contents:
What is visual learning?
Visual learning focuses on what people see and how people take in information from visual cues.
Visual learners think and learn best through visual communication, and generally find ways to use images, pictures, graphics or other visual communication tools to assist with their learning.
Related: How to Use Visual Communication: Definition, Examples, Templates
By most definitions, visual learning includes:
- Flow charts
Depending on which school of thought you belong to, visual learning lives in an educational ecosystem along with as many as three to six other distinct modes of learning information.
The VARK model emerged in the early 1990s based on research from New Zealand that identified four learning styles—visual, aural (hearing), read/write and kinesthetic (concrete)—with everyone preferring to learn via one of these four methods or perhaps a mixture.
This chart illustrates key differences between the learning styles outlined in the VARK model, along with the “multi-modal” style, which applies to people who fall into more than one style.
Rigid adherence to learning styles has been debunked by more recent research, including a study that showed those who received lessons in their preferred mode didn’t actually see an improvement to their learning outcomes.
Modern research has indicated that rather than being a style, visual learning is an ability, with some folks being better at it than others and every mode of learning being useful in certain situations.
As Indiana University professor Polly Husmann told The Atlantic in 2018:
“Everyone is able to think in words; everyone is able to think in mental images. It’s much better to think of everyone having a toolbox of ways to think, and think to yourself, which tool is best?”
Benefits of visual learning
Understanding the power of visual learning can help ensure your infographics make the most of their place in your training or educational toolbox. As it’s outlined in the VARK model, visual learning covers purposefully designed visuals and excludes photographs.
This flowchart, for example, uses a clear hierarchy to illustrate and reinforce the organizational structure of a healthcare company.
Research has outlined many of the primary benefits of visual learning, which (spoiler alert) can all be enhanced through the use of infographics:
- Information retention
- Engagement and attention
- Concept grasp
- Lesson permanence
- Visual literacy
- Higher-order thinking
Visual learning is critical in a business setting in order to engage employees and help them understand and remember company training and ultimately improve employee performance.
Related: How to Easily Create Job Aids that Improve Employee Performance
Our easy-to-edit visual learning templates and drag-and-drop editor make it simple for you to create your own infographics and training materials.
You can use Venngage’s simple design platform for all of your team’s visual communication needs, be it onboarding documents, training materials, or professional reports.
It’s free to get started. Once you’ve finished creating a design, upgrade to download (see pricing plans).
How to use infographics for better visual learning
When they’re used for visual learning, it’s important to make sure that infographics are more than just eye-catching and engaging, though they must be both of those things. Here are our best tips with specific examples that you can implement in your next infographic.
1. Minimize text
Some text is necessary to adequately set up and push the story along. But going overboard with words defeats the purpose of infographic learning and visual learning in general. After all, if the lesson is best said with words, then just use those.
There aren’t set rules regarding text in visual learning infographics, but editing is important. You want to distill the lesson down to a few areas the audience should take away. Any text that doesn’t support that should be removed.
Related: How to Summarize Information and Present it Visually
Here’s a great example of an infographic that has just enough text to set up the story and allows that story, along with data visualization and imagery, to engage the audience.
Why it works: The audience has an immediate understanding of what’s being reported, and there are no extraneous words. Also, thanks to the simple color palette and minimalist design, they’re more likely to remember what they saw, as there’s no clutter.
2. Use data and visual communication to simplify complex concepts
Infographics are uniquely suited for using design to explain the basics of a complicated topic. Infographics can enhance learning by establishing connections, distinctions, patterns, processes and more.
That could mean sharing statistics and facts related to an area of controversy or societal import. For example, this infographic offers a handful of statistics about displaced people, which distills a complex and heartbreaking topic and makes it easier to understand the scope of this tragedy.
Why it works: The combination of statistics, illustrations, data visualization and iconography give the audience a look at many important aspects of the issue without focusing too narrowly on any one area of this emotionally charged issue. The visualizations are accessible, which helps your audience better connect to the issue.
Related: Common Symbols and Meanings: How to Use Them in Design
Sometimes understanding a topic is as much about learning what it isn’t as what it is. Infographics can help simplify concepts and enhance visual learning through the use of comparisons.
Venn diagrams are an ideal option for seeing connections and differences, as they show where two (or more) elements overlap—and where they don’t.
Why it works: We’ll grant the topic isn’t exactly the most complex in the world, but the viewer sees immediately what these two groups have in common and what they don’t.
Many other types of infographics are ideal for making complex concepts easy to understand:
3. Make information sticky
How can you use infographic learning to ensure lessons and training stick with the audience? Three important components to effective use of infographics in visual learning are:
- Data visualization
- Information organization
- Iconography & illustration
There are many ways in which infographics can enhance learning outcomes, ensuring that information actually sticks with the audience, and brain science is one of the biggest reasons for this.
Visual processing accounts for more than half of the brain’s cortex, or its surface, according to researchers. That means that an enormous amount of energy in our brains is devoted to perceiving and processing visual input.
Just as you wouldn’t soup-up a computer with incredible graphics cards just so you could use the calculator, not using infographics in visual learning means you’re wasting some incredible learning potential.
Neuroscientists at MIT found that humans can process the entirety of images they see for a fraction of a second—13 milliseconds, to be exact. It’s important to note that this study used photographs and not infographics, but the speed of humans’ visual processing ability is clear.
Now we’re going to look more in-depth at how you can make information sticky.
Related: Learning and Development 101: How to Get Started [With Visual Tips and Templates]
In addition to reducing text to the minimal amount necessary and simplifying concepts, using tools like data visualization can help the audience absorb information and make learning permanent.
Sometimes that means using one big data visualization in a learning infographic. Here’s a great example of this by the Reuters news agency, which visualized the impact of plastic waste, comparing it physically to major global landmarks.
Explore: Reuters news service: Plastic bottles sold, past 10 years vs. New York City
Why it works: We all have an image of New York City’s skyscrapers in our mind’s eye. To see a mountain of plastic bottles dwarf even the highest of Manhattan high-rises drives home the lesson of plastic waste more than numbers (4 trillion bottles over 10 years) ever could.
Infographics are especially useful tools when it comes to organizing information, and for some types of infographics, the format allows the creator to share many types of information all in one big picture.
In this infographic on the history of Google, the audience gets a multi-layered experience that’s organized in a familiar, intuitive timeline format.
Why it works: Timeline infographics are especially useful at imparting dates, eras or orders of events. But this infographic’s visual structure allows for information to be expanded through the use of icons, colors and design choices.
Iconography & illustrations
Iconography and illustrations in infographics can enhance visual learning by establishing a new connection in the mind of the audience. Pairing a piece of information with an icon or illustration can marry the two forever in the mind of the viewer.
In this infographic exploring leadership styles, the illustrations at the top encapsulate the detailed explanations that follow.
Why it works: The style of the illustrations is engaging, and their content allows the audience to quickly grasp the gist of each style, while the body of the infographic gives them the full picture.
Related: How to Use an Icon Story to Take Your Infographic to the Next Level
4. Aid critical thinking
As Roman philosopher Seneca said, “While we teach, we learn.” In other words, if you want to be sure your audience is learning, have them instruct you.
The very act of creating an infographic is an excellent way to teach or train just about anybody. Tools like Venngage make it easy to share a lesson with the audience and task them with coming up with the ideal format, content and design for their own infographic.
Understanding what makes a bad infographic can also be a helpful exercise in visual learning, as the audience identifies the flaws they see. (Here are 2020’s worst.)
When critiquing infographics in visual learning, focus on things like whether the format improves understanding, if the information creates a false impression and whether the correct types of data visualizations are used.
Not sure which is right? Here’s how to use the most common types:
- Line: Tracking change over time
- Bar: Comparing values
- Pie: Showing parts of a whole
- Venn diagram: Illustrating relationships between variables
Related: How to Choose the Best Charts for Your Infographics
In summary: Infographics are a great tool to support visual learning
Infographics help simplify complex concepts, provide context for raw data and make it easier for your audience to engage with the information presented.
Infographics support visual learners to take in information quickly and more easily, which is why they are a perfect tool to communicate materials like company training documents or data-heavy organizational information.
You don’t have to be a designer to create an infographic that facilitates your employees’ training and development process. Start creating infographics today using Venngage’s easy-to-use infographic maker and drag-and-drop editor.