Infographics: A visual link to learning

By Nathan Bellato / December 2013

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We live in a society of information overload with technological access at every corner and, more than ever, people complaining that they simply "just don't have the time." We are expected to filter the constant bombardment of mostly insignificant information, making it difficult to find out what is relevant, important, and crucial to our everyday lives.

Over time we are changing the way we interact with information. We are becoming pullers of information rather than accepting that which is pushed to us. A further extension of this behavior is our taste for succinct information (or the lack of waffle). One of the biggest drivers of this behavior has been the introduction of the smartphone and the ease of access to "Google" from a device sitting in our pockets and bags. This change in behavior has created a challenge for learning and development, as in many cases we can no longer push information onto the learner as it will simply go through one ear and out the other.

We are always looking for new tools to improve our learning, so let's meet the new kid taking the learning world by storm, infographics.

What are Infographics?

We have all heard the saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. In essence, this is what infographics are all about.

Infographics take typically dry, text-based information and present it in a visual manner. They are concise, easily digestible, and aesthetically appealing, incorporating clever visual elements to highlight key information. Imagine taking your tired old bar charts and recreating them into an interactive experience. Sound appealing?

Infographics take on many forms, but are most commonly found as online posters (see Figure 1) and short animated videos (usually less than five minutes). All types of infographics offer their own visual appeal. In the case of video infographics, you are also able to add other elements such as music, voiceover, and animation to appeal to different learner preferences.

Infographics have one key goal, to provide an audience with short sharp information in a way that is memorable. We will now look at some examples of good infographics; you can also find more at visual.ly

Figure 1. The Art of Car Buying Infographic

poster infographic

In this poster infographic the key points and statistics are supported (or replaced) by the clever use of relevant graphics, which improve the audience's memory of the content. In this example traditional graphs are replaced by automotive themed "graphs," which make the content more interesting (and thus more likely to be adsorbed). Source: http://infographiccommons.com/view/car-buying.html

The Power of Visuals on Learning

When it comes to learning, your eyes are a powerful tool. They are a literal extension of your brain. So as producers of learning content, it would make sense to target such an important sensory element.

Visual information can take a multitude of forms, but let us focus on the humble photograph for a moment. Photographs can be pretty, colorful, and breathtaking. They can also be unpleasing and disturbing, but ultimately they all do one thing, provide impact.

So what about the science behind it?

Studies estimate roughly 65 percent of our learners are visual learners [1]. It's commonly asserted that your brain processes visual information 60,000 times faster than text-based information [2]. (Figure 2 is an example of a text-based infographic.)

Figure 2. Why Online Learning is Vital to Improving Education Infographic

text-based infographic

Like all effective infographics, this one contains minimal text to display key points supported by corresponding graphics. The graphics act as a visual aid (or prompt) to improve memory of the information. Source: http://infographiccommons.com/view/digital-learning.html

Imagine if our brains had a preference, they would most likely prefer visual information. This preference for visual information can be attributed to the pictorial superiority effect. The pictorial superiority effect arises from a study conducted in 1976 where researchers exposed students to more than 2,500 images for 10 seconds each [3]. The study found participants were able to remember 90 percent of the images several days post-exposure, by contrast, only 10 percent of oral information.

Infographics as a Learner Tool

Infographics are an effective learning tool, and can be used in a number of ways to enhance the learner experience. There are two ways in particular that are of interest. Infographics can be a learning program itself, rather than a typical eLearning program. Video infographics allow you to quickly encapsulate key learning and provide them in an entertaining way to the learner (see Figure 3). They can usually be produced much faster than a small eLearning program with similar or greater impact.

Figure 3. Social Media Policy Video Infographic

video infographic

Video infographics enhance the experience by adding elements such as animation, voice narration and music. Video infographics, like their poster cousin, use mostly graphics and minimal text to deliver its message. Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GqdV0_JpsnM

We are sometimes guilty of jumping on the traditional eLearning bandwagon when a learning need has been identified, without asking ourselves is it necessary or are there better options. This is particularly the case where you only need to provide a small bit of information, as they allow you to provide it to the learner quickly and in a more digestible format.

Secondly infographics can be used as an introduction to a topic, a teaser if you may. If your infographics are interesting it will hopefully stimulate interest in a topic, prompting the learner to investigate further and pull in the information. If you follow this path you need to provide a range of support materials for your learner to access, taking full advantage of the learning opportunity.

Why Infographics are Advantageous to your Learners?

A recent survey in the United Kingdom stated we are remembering less because of our reliance on the Internet [4]. While this supports the idea we are now pullers of information, it is scary to think we are remembering less. By breaking information into concise, entertaining chunks, infographics aim to increase the amount of information people remember. The more a learner remembers, the more they can take back to their working environment, increasing the chance of improving their capability.

Infographics are straight to the point, meaning developers need to do the filtering for the learner. If you think of this from a learner perspective, it is fantastic. Learners receive exactly what they need to know, in a memorable manner. The reality is, if someone threw a one hundred-page report at you, would you either read the whole thing or just the executive summary (prompting you to explore only what you needed to know)?

The fact that infographics are entertaining can make them interesting and ultimately increase engagement. Many infographics, while remaining on topic, add interesting factoids or humor to keep the user engaged. This leads to people sharing the infographics with their colleagues, spreading the message.

Finally, if you are one who subscribes to the idea of learner preferences, infographics are great for visual learners. They incorporate many visual elements to portray the message instead of traditional text-based methods. Video infographics also aid your auditory learners by adding voice-overs, narrative, or emotional response through music and sound effects (see Figure 4).

Figure 4. Australian Bureau of Statistics Spotlight Program (Interactive Infographic)

interactive infographic

The interactive infographic allows you to input your own information. The infographic then plays a video infographic, customized to your information. This form of infographic, not only makes it personal, but also allows the learners to interact with the information. Source: http://spotlight.abs.gov.au/

Conclusion

Infographics are learning tools that provide a great way to supply learners with quick, concise, and key information in a memorable and engaging way. There are many resources out there to create infographics that provide information aligned to the modern day learner. With many key advantages over traditional eLearning, why not consider Infographics for your next learning product.

References

[1] Bradford, William C. Reaching the Visual Learner: Teaching Property Through Art. The Law Teacher 12, 1 (2004), 12-13.

[2] The Media Education Centre. Office for Information Technology, Williams College. Using Images Effectively in Media (2010). Accessed November 15, 2013. http://oit.williams.edu/files/2010/02/using-images-effectively.pdf

[3] Nelson, D.L., Reed, U.S., and Walling, J.R. Pictorial superiority effect. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning and Memory 2, 5 (1976), 523-528.

[4] Is Google rotting your memory? Survey finds adults are becoming more forgetful because it is so easy to look up things on the Internet. The Daily Mail. October 2, 2013. Accessed November 16, 2013. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2442153/Google-makes-people-forgetful-finds-survey.html

About the Author

Nathan Bellato is the Technical Lead of eLearning Development for the Australian Government Department of Education, and a senior member of the Australian Government's eLearning community of practice, iLearn Netmeet. Nathan specializes in developing innovative learning solutions for the government sector, with a particular focus on infographics and mobile learning.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/2556269



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