Multiple ways of conveying information

Just now, browsing around in this library, I picked up a large book called History: The Definitive Visual Guide, by Dorling Kindersley. It’s an amazing textbook which brings history to life. Captioned pictures, diagrams, maps, and timelines abound in this book. Each double page is a “capsule” which gives an overview of one topic in history (e.g. Cleopatra, the Napoleonic Wars, The Slave Trade, etc.) which the reader can research further if they’re interested.

The value of images

Having lots of pictures in textbooks is currently viewed as a sort of crutch. That it helps to pique students’ interest, but is ultimately a lesser form of knowledge than text. So as one moves up in the educational system, texts become accompanied with less and less pictures, and students become increasingly discouraged (or at the very least, less encouraged) from including pictures in their schoolwork. To the point where many academic papers contain nothing but text at all. As if pictures are to be associated with weakness, immaturity, and childhood.

The same sometimes goes for audio/visual materials as well. They’re seen as lower down on the totem pole to text, in the same sort of mental hierarchical pecking order people give to different disciplines, as Ken Robinson points out in his famous TED talk. (I’ll get to that in a future post!)

But I completely disagree with this notion. Not only are pictures, graphs, flowcharts, maps, and diagrams a motivating factor for visual students such as myself, but they also convey a whole plethora of information. They “complete the picture” (no pun intended!) where text leaves off. They instantly show multiple connections between many concepts where texts struggle to do the same. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words!


Let’s encourage our academic paper writers and textbook editors to include more pictures, flowcharts, and diagrams in their works when they contribute to students’ understanding and mastery of the material.

Study technique for visual learners

On a personal level, here’s a technique I sometimes use to memorize lists of concepts. I draw a simple picture that includes one symbol for each of the items I need to memorize. I make sure to annotate the picture with numbers and arrows connecting each number to its respective symbol on the pic. And during test time, if I’m stuck, I simply redraw the picture. It works like a charm!


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