Visual language in learning

When you use visual language you don’t need to worry about your audiences first language. Everyone is visual literate.

Wikipedia defines visual language as: a system of communication using visual elements. Diagrams, Maps, Paintings, Photographs and Film/Video all rely on visual communication and these can be used in learning to transmit a message which crosses language barriers using little or no words.

A picture paints a thousand words

In the book The Director’s Six Sense, author Simone Bartesaghi critiques the below image:

Although there are no defining clues which lead us to this assumption, people commonly believe this embrace takes place in an airport and the woman has returned from a tour which has kept her away from home for a long period of time.

Visual language should communicate an idea or a feeling, and this example certainly does that. Simone Bartesaghi explains that this single image is “charged with emotion” and is a powerful example of visual storytelling.

Describing this scenario in a learning solution could be difficult and would take a skilled writer or speaker to accurately convey the emotional facial expression. If this image isn’t seen, learners might not get the spark of emotion which releases the chemicals and hormones in our body making the information memorable. 

Visual Elements

Visual language can support a learning outcome and communicate ideas, let’s think about cave drawings.  There are many theories why they exist, was it to decorate, tell stories or educate others? Whichever theory you believe we know for certain that visual images were used to communicate in place of words.

When designing learning solutions it’s essential to think about each visual element as these create and convey a visual message. These may not always be a picture or video they could be a variety of elements such as:

  • Lines
  • Shapes
  • Colour
  • Texture
  • Motion
  • Scale
  • Angle
  • Space
  • Proportion

Connie Malamed delivered a Crash Course in Visual Design session at Learning Technologies Conference in 2018.

You don’t need to draw well to improve your visual design skills; you need to learn the foundation principles and apply them.


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