Visual thinking: what it is and how it influences education

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so it’s no surprise that our minds prefer to work with visuals before using verbalized language. It is true that words allow to describe reality with hair and signs, but the images are directly a representation of this reality.

But if visual thinking seems to be a fundamental aspect of the way we process information, the truth is that in the field of education, graphic methods have been largely neglected and textual and oral explanations of content have been prioritized. to teach in the classroom.

However, in the middle of the last century, a new conception emerged, visual thinking. who sought to rediscover the importance of working with images, both to capture information and to explain it. Let’s see what this pedagogical approach consists of.

    What is visual thinking?

    Visual thinking is “visual thinking” a pedagogical approach that maintains that since the mind prefers to work with images rather than verbalized languageThe best way to create, share, develop and manipulate ideas is to represent them in visual terms.

    Thus, visual thinking is both a theoretical framework and a tool that advocates the use of graphic resources to be able to express ideas and concepts in a way that is easier to digest for our brain, by relying on graphic representations of textual and audiovisual content.

    1. Importance of visual thinking

    Humans are visual animals and, in fact, our way of interpreting the world is based on a significant percentage of what we perceive through sight. It is said that about 90% of the information our brain receives is visual and that we were able to process the images much faster than any information given to us in text form or through oral language. Visual information leaves us with a deeper imprint than what we read or what we are told.

    It is clear that language, both written and oral, is a very sophisticated and useful tool for conveying our ideas, however, this vehicle of conveying concepts does not have the immediacy or closeness that an image has, as the picture is, in itself. , the representation of the pure concept itself. For example, learning what an apple is is much easier to do than seeing an apple in a photo or in real life before memorizing its definition.

    Although the language is very useful, it is neither perceptual nor immediate, In addition to requiring a priori reflection. Written and spoken language tells us what has already been heard, seen or thought, not in direct contact with reality, but rather a long description of what it is. Although one can think using verbalized language, what some call “mentalities”, it is not possible to think quickly without resorting to images. In fact, thinking about a concept using pictures makes it easier to understand and remember that concept.

    But even though it has long been known that we humans tend to resort to images, traditional education has grown in importance to this fact. As written and oral culture developed, it was preferable to resort to the written text as it allowed information to be conveyed more easily and unequivocally, but its expressiveness and ease of memorization were also sacrificed.

    The idea behind visual thought theorists is that of recover visual language as a tool to better understand and explain reality. Instead of focusing so much on reading rare texts of descriptive images, resorting to visual aids and inviting learners to describe their ideas using graphics, drawings or pictograms is increasingly seen as a best option to facilitate learning.

    2. The figure of Rudolf Arnheim

    We cannot speak of visual thought as an educational doctrine without mentioning one of its greatest representatives: Rudolf Arnheim. This German psychologist published in 1969 a work of the same title, “Visual Thinking” which, already in the middle of the XXth century, progress has been made in considering that traditional methodologies of education have failed. Vision was the primary means of reflection but had been put aside in class by giving priority to written words, which sometimes refer to ideas defined in a way too abstract to be understood without pictures.

    Thus, Arnheim argued that people learn in a much richer way through sight, either by appealing to sensations or nuances, aspects that verbalized language might not adequately express. Visual methods should be introduced in textbooks and classrooms and see if students can express ideas seen in class through drawings or visual resources. If he was successful, it meant that they had succeeded in internalizing and understanding what was seen in class as well as using their creativity.

    3. Dan Roam method

    Another of the great references of the concept of visual thinking that we have at Dan Roam, who goes proposed a method to be able to develop it in his book “Your world in a towel” of 2010, In which he defends the idea that drawings or images of any kind serve to better communicate, sketch and summarize our ideas rather than resorting to a written text. However, before turning a concept into a visual representation, a few questions should be asked:

    • Who is this idea for?
    • How much do you need to sum up?
    • Where to do it? What type of visual aids will be used?
    • How to do?
    • When to exhibit
    • Why give it visual support?

    With these questions answered, we move on to the process of transforming an idea into something visual. Because It Roam speaks of four phases:

    1. Look

    Information is collected and selected, Focusing on the most important thing that faithfully represents the idea.

    2. See

    The patterns are recognized and the most interesting is selected by thinking about the audience who will receive the visual message, by correctly grouping the information possessed.

    3. Imagine

    Information is reorganized, Detect what may have escaped us or which may attract the attention of the audience receiving the message, as well as when to imagine new ideas that can give you a creative impetus to the visual representation of the concept to be expressed.

    4. Show

    To finish information is synthesized and clarity is given to everything that has been raised in earlier phases. It is at this stage that the idea which has been transformed into a visual concept manifests itself.

    Any visual aid can be useful for presenting any idea. Whether it is through diagrams, charts, visual infographics or any other visual element, it can be easier for the audience to assimilate and manage an idea which, in textual and oral terms, can become too abstract.

      Benefits of promoting visual thinking

      Especially at the educational level, the promotion of visual thinking has many advantages, especially since, as we have already mentioned, it helps to understand the concepts and ideas which are defined verbatim may not be. fully grasped. While it should be remembered that texts are not something to be done without in education, visual aids should also be in the classroom., Help to better assimilate what the textbooks try to express.

      But showing pictures to students not only helps them to assimilate concepts, but also asks them to use their own visual thinking skills. Having students try to express what was presented in class graphically is a great way to get them to work on this idea, try to understand it and deal with it beyond its verbalized definition. The student should think about the idea, synthesize it and finally represent it in an original way and understand what it is. Thus, metacognition and retention of learning in the classroom are encouraged.

      We also encourage creativity in the classroom, an aspect that is very much overlooked in traditional education and only found in subjects considered to be purely artistic such as music or the fine arts. Each individual can have a very different shape to represent the same concept and that’s not bad, quite the contrary. By asking students to graph a given concept in class, they have full freedom of imagination, which makes learning fun and enjoyable.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Arnheim, R. (1969). Visual thinking. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-24226-5.
      • Wander. D. (2010). Your world on a napkin. Barcelona, ​​Spain. Management Editions 2000. ISBN: 9788498754445
      • Pashler, H .; McDaniel, M .; Rohrer, D .; Bjork, R. (2008). Learning styles: concepts and evidence. Psychological Sciences of Public Interest 9: 105-119. doi: 10.1111 / j.1539-6053.2009.01038.

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