Master Your Message for Maximum Impact

Visuals Affect How We Learn

How do we learn? If you want to be truly effective in delivering your presentation content, it’s important to know. You can bet that knowing how your audience receives information will have a major affect on how you deliver it.

“Tell me, I forget.
Show me, I remember.
Involve me, I understand.”
Chinese Proverb

Did this old Chinese proverb get it right? And if it did, how does it affect the way we present?

It’s been proven through a number of major studies that people have to be mentally active in order to learn. They must make connections between new knowledge and their existing knowledge, or beliefs. As a result, structuring an opening that makes sure everyone is “on the same page” will go a long way to making your audience receptive to new information.

83% of human learning occurs visually – the most compelling communication combines both visual and non-visual content.

Visuals are highly effective in the transfer of knowledge. A 1982 study by Levie and Lentz, comparing a text only learning environment to a text and illustrated one, found that approximately 87% preferred text and visuals over just text alone.

Further studies in the 90s showed that the use of animation resulted in significantly less time needed to answer posttest questions. The students learned (or retained) more information due to the use of animation.

These studies resulted in “Ten Tested Principles” of human learning (2003). Here are the highlights (as they relate to presentations):

  1. Lectures fail to promote understanding because understanding is an interpretive process in which students must be mentally involved. Lecturing is one way communication.
  2. In learning, less is more. Trying to cover large amounts of material and information reduces understanding and recall. If we teach toward future use, we should focus on in-depth understanding of principles.
  3. When learners integrate knowledge from both verbal and visual representations, they can recall it and apply it with greater ease.

And in 1989, Levin wrote: “pictures interact with text to produce levels of comprehension and memory that can exceed what is produced by text alone.”

However, keep these things in mind in terms of the use of visuals (from a study on the use of images in computer-based learning):

“The presence of pictures relevant to the text will assist learning. Therefore, for each screen without an image, is there an image that is relevant to the information on that screen? If you can replace the text with an image, do.”

The Bottom Line (What studies tell us)

  • Make sure you begin on common ground with your audience.
  • Visuals or not, you must mentally engage your audience – the more interactivity, the better. In other words, learning depends on you, the presenter, not your supporting visuals.
  • Pictures must be relevant. If not, remove them. They will simply distract from your message.
  • Animation can help greatly in comprehension. However, it too must be relevant to what you are trying to convey.

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