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Enhancing and Impacting the Online Classroom Environment with Infographics

By Hanadi Hamadi, Frederick R. Kates, George Raul Audi, Samantha A. Larson, Malcolm M. Kates / April 2019

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Throughout history, civilizations have used images to convey their stories. The phrase “A picture is worth a thousand words,” is a manifestation of the power of visual communication. An image can create a sense of clarity by translating knowledge and meaning [1]. An infographic (short for information graphic) is a type of picture that blends data with design. Formally, an infographic portrays complex information in a manner that can be quickly consumed and understood due to its visual nature [2]. Studies have shown adult learners retain multifaceted information better if that information is delivered through an illustration. Furthermore, research has shown information has better recall when text is presented with visual media [3]. Therefore, when learners utilize an infographic, knowledge retention can be improved. The cognitive load theory (CLT) helps explain this phenomena; during the learning process information must be held in the working memory long enough to pass into the long-term memory. The working memory's capacity is limited, when overwhelmed with too much information at once information can be lost [4]. An infographic can help by merging multiple sources of visual information as well as reducing text with images that combine information be identifying similar patterns and relationships [5]. A reduction in cognitive load can result in improved learning outcomes. Within higher education, increased support of visual communication design is evident [6]. Therefore, it is critical to arm students with the skills necessary to adapt to multidisciplinary fields.

College students today are inundated by visually stimulating screen-based environments. They continuously create meaning and knowledge through interpreting images, such as memes, and visual-based media, such as GIFs (graphics interchange formats). According to Merriam Webster, a GIF is “a computer file format for the compression and storage of visual digital information; also: an image or video stored in this format.” Therefore, competencies in visual literacy are essential for today’s college learners [7]. Many faculty in multiple disciplines have integrated infographic assessments in their curriculum. These assessments are advantageous to students because it helps them: (a) discriminate, and make sense of visible objects as part of visual acuity, (b) create static and dynamic visible objects effectively in a defined space, (c) comprehend and appreciate the visual testaments of others, and (d) conjure objects in the mind’s eye” [8].

Higher education faculty need to better integrate visual materials into authentic, active learning assignments [9]. This is because many students report utilization of web-based image search engines, such as Google Images, to help identify appropriate resources to understand course content. The popularity of infographics has facilitated new forms of application in education, such as instructor- and student-provided summary infographics to support communicating information about complex, raw data [10]. Infographics can enhance the process of summarizing educational material, both student- and instructor-generated. Visually summarizing materials can improve comprehension and retention [11]. Visualization applies abstract thinking to provide meaning that helps synthesize and establish relationships to allow complex concepts to be more easily understood [12]. Thinking in the abstract can be symbolic, richer, and more complex than a set of numbers or percentages. Therefore, as instructors we address the concept of abstract thinking with an introductory infographic lesson. Students are tasked to research and gather data on particular topics and create individual infographics. The goal of the infographic project is to provide students a new medium where they can demonstrate critical thinking cognitive skills by filtering information, establishing relationships, identifying patterns, and presenting information that is more meaningful.

Instructional Preparation

The introduction to infographics begins with a carefully scripted presentation. Once the first infographic images are displayed, most students recognize the concept, but may not be familiar with the terminology of data visualization or infographics. The presentation starts with a classic example from Rajamanickam’s “Infographics Seminar Handout,” a staple used by researchers integrating infographics to improve higher education [13]. We cannot stress enough the value of teaching these foundational components, particularly the nine design strategies summarized in Table 1.



Organize collected information about the topic at hand and develop a plan for presenting it in a concise, impactful manner.

Make Visible

Present the graphics and information in a manner that is easily visible and discernable to the intended audience.

Establish Context

The information must be put into an appropriate context through scaling of the included graphics.


The information and graphics provided should be concise and direct without extraneous text or distracting imagery. This should include simplified color schemes that aid in understanding, rather than detract.

Add Redundancy

Maintain an appropriate level of redundancy to strike a balance between predictability and uncertainty. Doing so may increase the likelihood of knowledge processing and understanding, as well as successful communication.

Show Cause and Effort

Present the information and graphics in a way that portrays underlying mechanisms used to establish cause and effect.

Compare and Contrast

In addition to cause and effect, explicitly compare and contrast elements allowing the viewer to make quick, visual conclusions.

Create Multiple Dimensions

When pertinent, portraying multiple dimensions in a fluid, coherent manner will effectively convey the topic at hand.


Establishing a cohesive story by placing comparators side-by-side and references within eye span is imperative.

Table 1. Nine strategies for designing quality infographics. These strategies provide students with a better understanding of infographic design as well as an introduction to the expectations of the assignment.

Creating a compelling infographic is challenging. If the primary steps of constructing an infographic are not learned, it is easy to produce an infographic that is confusing or misleading [14]. If it is your first time teaching and incorporating an infographic lesson, we have found it is worth assessing if the students understand foundational components before starting. Before moving on to the actual infographic assignment, a quick assessment can be done by utilizing the quiz function in a learning management system (LMS). We suggest putting a quiz together to make sure the students clearly understand the nine design strategies and what type of information they are working with, whether it is chronological, spatial, quantitative, or qualitative. Also, you want to assess if they have a plan to organize the available information. The quiz serves as a knowledge benchmark to guide you in your content development. If many of the students lack the needed skills to complete an infographic, it is worth the putting the upfront time to teach the nine strategies of creating a compelling infographic where the cohesive whole is more than the sum of its parts.

Incorporating Infographics in an Online Classroom

Infographics can be incorporated into the online learning environment in many ways including:

  • Student-generated infographics used in research assignments to assist students with summarizing data and information based on specific criteria and an infographic
  • Student-generated infographics used within a discussion board feature, which is common in most LMSs. Students can upload their infographic with a related summary discussion question for other students to answer and then critique the infographic. This encourages students to think critically about the successes and failures of other student-made infographics and appreciate what features contribute to a successful product.
  • Instructor-generated infographics that summarize key learning objectives and content in an online module. This shift away from student summaries to instructor generated visual summaries has been shown to improve students transfer knowledge [15].


Students can complete the infographic assignment with a Microsoft Office product, such as Word, PowerPoint, or Publisher. While this does not incur any additional cost and gives students an unconstrained basis to begin (since there are no pre-designed infographic templates), assembling the infographic may be time-consuming on these platforms. With the rising popularity of infographics, there are many free online infographic tools now offered on the internet. Many of these sites are “freemium,” a combination of free and premium, where users can get basic features at no cost and premium features for a subscription fee. It is worth explaining the concept of freemium to students, mentioning if you intend to incorporate these free sites into an online assignment. You do not want a student to work on an assignment and attempt to download their work to upload into a LMS, only to find out there is a fee. It is pertinent that you read the small print, but also note these sites have their advantages with pre-formatted templates, charts, graphics, and color schemes. A sampling of what’s available online include: Adobe Spark,, Canva, Google Sheets,, Piktochart, Venngage, Visme, and

Piktochart, for example, is an easy-to-use drag and drop style site with pre-made templates and charts. Data can be inputted directly into the site or uploaded via Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets, and the entire infographic shared as an HTML or embedded via a link. Like many other freemium sites, more features are available to students for a fee, though assignments can be completed via the free version alone. While many such sites and programs exist, it is important to explain the fundamentals of infographics and concise data representation before turning students loose to navigate these sites on their own.

Many of the aforementioned sites provide examples and video tutorials on how to use their software, as well as tips on how to make an effective infographic. After students have navigated to different sites and watch several infographic tutorials, the discussion board function in a LMS can be used to leverage their findings. They can post their findings with their peers about the effectiveness of the software tested and the quality of the tutorials. Most discussion boards can run in an asynchronous manner or synchronously via a live online chat to facilitate real-time dialogue, which can be instrumental in developing online learning communities [16].

If instructors need additional infographic examples to highlight particular design strategies we suggest using photo share site such as Flickr and search infographics using the “all creative commons” drop-down option for images that can be adapted and redistributed. Also, instructors can use the discussion board function (see Figure 1) to address repetitive questions about technical issues and questions about web accessibility, which they might include in their grading criteria.

Figure 1. The Canvas learning management system is an example of a technical issue discussion board.
[click to enlarge]

Assessing an Infographic

There are numerous approaches and views about what to include in an infographic rubric. Many of the existing rubrics are brief and straightforward, broadly covering content and design [17]. On the other extreme are rubrics that extensively cover the details of different infographic components [18] or focus on the elements of effective storytelling [19]. An excellent resource to rubric development is an article entitled “Recipe for an Infographic” [20]. The time spent creating a rubric, benefits both the learner and the instructor because a rubric clarifies criteria and expectations for a “good” infographic project. This reduces confusion and puts the emphasis on learning outcomes not simply the task of creating the infographic. For example when grading an infographic for a freshman course such as “Introduction to Health Professions,” our comments might include critiques regarding the amount, size and color of text, nodding to the fact that the more concise an infographic, the more powerful the overall message, and utilization of appropriate in-text citation to match sources presented in a bibliography. An example of a student-created infographic from a health service course shows the power of the infographic medium and the general quality of student submissions (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Student infographic. "The Changing Role of a Physician Assistant." © 2019 Krinna Patel, used with permission.
[click to enlarge]

Using a detailed rubric, along with adding grading comments in a LMS, can provide online students the feedback necessary to develop their infographic design skills. An additional instructor benefit, particularly for large online courses, is the ability to grade an infographic assignment quicker than a traditional paper.


Remember that an infographic is more than simply a display of graphics and data; it is a tool utilized to make connections. Infographics provide a rich medium to visualize data and information and improve a student’s critical thinking skills [21]. The overarching goal of an infographic is to combine information, data, and visual elements in a manner that increases effectiveness of communication. Ultimately, an infographic should demonstrate a student’s ability to filter information, establish relationships, identify patterns, and present the material as more meaningful knowledge.

To enhance the value of this instructional technology in the e-learning community, more research needs to be done on the potential of infographics to improve students’ critical thinking. For example, pilot studies with valid survey instruments should evaluate online/blended courses currently implementing infographic lessons. These questions should be grounded with appropriate research, such as the panel meetings conducted with 46 leading experts on critical thinking that came to consensus on critical thinking skills applicable for educational assessments and instructions [22].

Impact and Conclusions

Infographics can have a tremendous impact in the online classroom across learning styles, but may be particularly beneficial for students who identify themselves as visual learners [23]. The human brain responds to and processes visual data faster than other types of data, and 90 percent of information transmitted to the brain is visual [24]. Data visualization can provide students with multiple dimensions of competency including searching, systematic thinking, and effective interdisciplinary teamwork [25]. In assessing infographic effectiveness, it is important to evaluate the clarity of information first and foremost, followed by consistency, quality, and creativity [26]. Each of these are important skills for students to develop during their education. Furthermore, there is a strong potential for managerial implications of these skills as students enter the professional arena. These competencies can assist in the development of message clarity, enhance communication, and allow better decision making through proper interpretation of complex data.


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About the Authors

Hanadi Hamadi is an Assistant Professor, Health Administration Department, University of North Florida. She earned her Ph.D. from University of South Carolina. Her research agenda focuses on the evaluation of health outcome initiatives, with an emphasis on cost effectiveness and policy impact of social-determinants-focused Health outcome initiatives.

Frederick R. Kates III, MBA, Ph.D., serves as a Clinical Assistant Professor for Health Services Research, Management and Policy Department in the College of Public Health and Health at the University of Florida. His current research involves outcome-based evaluation of service quality in Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) and educational technology aimed at improving the delivery of online instruction.

George Raul Audi is an Assistant Professor, Florida A&M University. He holds a Ph.D. from University of South Carolina in Health Services Policy and Management. His research interests involve; healthcare organizational structures, financial modeling, financial market analysis and healthcare policy.

Samantha Larson is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Health Services Research, Management and Policy at the University of Florida. She earned her BS in Nutrition Science from the University of Minnesota and MPH in Health Policy from Creighton University. Ms. Larson spent several years working in government affairs and strategic planning for BlueCross BlueShield of Vermont.

Malcolm M. Kates is a first-year medical student at the University of Florida College of Medicine. He received an Intramural Research Training Award from the National Institutes of Health to conduct translational research on genetic neuromuscular disorders. He is currently working with the Quality Systems and Resilience Unit at the World Health Organization studying healthcare quality, safety, and performance monitoring in emergency situations.

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    Post by Ankita Tiwari

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  • Wed, 04 Sep 2019
    Post by Ankita Tiwari

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