The Power of Images to Enhance Learning

The Power of Images to Enhance Learning

Many years ago I attended a work conference. One of the presenters ran a data session in a very large room with slides full of graphs and charts that were impossible to see – even close to the front. There were no handouts and the room quickly became disinterested. However, she did something very curious – every 4th or 5th slide there was a slide of a brilliant field of flowers – tulips, daises, roses of every colour flooded the screen for a brief moment. The presentation wasn’t long and there was time at the end for questions. The room was very quiet until 1 person asked the question the rest of us were thinking – “Could you please explain the reason for the flowers?” to which the presenter replied – “I knew my presentation was going to be boring so I decided to jazz things up with some photos from a recent trip I took to a garden show!”

I might have shared this story before as there were many things I learned from that session. Sadly, not the content the presenter worked so hard to prepare. The one I wanted to pick up here was the effect that an image can have on learning. We have all heard the expression “a picture paints a thousand words” but the research confirms that this is true – we see with our brains. Dealing with visual input actually takes up almost half of the brain’s processing power.

The research also tells us that the way the brain processes images and words is very different. Memory studies conducted for more than 100 years have confirmed that the more visual the information is, the more likely you will recognise and even recall this information – days, weeks even years later. According to John Medina, in his book, Brain Rules – if information is presented orally, people remember about 10% if tested 72 hours after hearing it, but that figure goes up to 65% if you add a picture.

So as trainers there are a few things we should think about:

1. Use Images/video/animations in your presentations
Harness the brain’s attention by including images/videos etc into your presentations. Not the way it was in the story above but by carefully selecting images that very closely relate to the content you are delivering. We have to decide on what might be the best example of the point we are trying to make. What is the most important take away we want our learners to grasp? Find a picture that illustrates that.

2. Convert your messages into images
Think about the content you are delivering. Can you represent it in a different way? Through symbols? An infographic? Could you give up the PowerPoint and head to a whiteboard instead and explain while you draw? Our brains pay attention to colour, size, orientation and movement – use as many as you can.

3. Show your students what to pay attention to
Don’t just assume that once you have chosen the perfect image to represent your content that your learners will focus on the same things you did. Point out the important parts. It might not need any further explanation but by highlighting the connections we made we can help our learners get the picture themselves.

4. Reduce the amount of text in your presentations
This one is simple. It doesn’t work. Stop it.

5. Make it go both ways
With all the technology around there is no shortage of images available to choose from – photos, cartoons etc, but why not try drawing it yourself? I know many of us are not artists, including me, but maybe the most memorable part of the drawing is the fact that your drawing of Australia looks more like a camel. And if you are really feeling insecure, then why not get your learners to do a drawing for you that represents their learning instead?

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