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Convey and Command: How to Create Effective Visuals for Learning Solutions

Monday, December 6, 2021

We have all seen the effects of a well-crafted billboard that commands attention and conveys a message in the second a person passes it. How can it convey meaning and have stopping power in that fleeting moment? There are principles of visual communication from marketing that we can marry into learning and development to create this same impact.

It’s known that well-crafted visuals support effective learning. They increase our understanding of concepts, help us retain information, and enhance our ability to recall what we’ve learned. The information presented in this post will help you ensure the visuals in your learning solutions are impactful, interactive, and efficient.

Why Use Visuals in Training?

Perhaps the most common argument in favor of the use of visuals is the power that they have on our comprehension of concepts. Visuals can help you understand things in ways that words alone can’t. Visuals, whether they are in a video, e-learning, or nondigital format, can improve the learner’s ability to process and synthesize new information.

Learners will recall information that they see and hear longer than if they just read it. This is because the part of the brain involved in the seeing and hearing processes is the same one that is used to form memories. Visual stimuli and emotional response are linked. When you see familiar images, they bring back memories, don’t they?

One image can depict a thought or a feeling, and the human brain will recognize it. This process helps to reinforce the message in the person’s mind. Pictures and images were the first forms of visual communication in our early history (cave paintings and hieroglyphics). You can explain a complex problem with an effective image, video, and a few words accompanying it.

Visual Communication in Training

Images speak loudly and clearly when they are related to the information being conveyed. As is understood in marketing communication, visual communication in training is effective because:

  • It is a visual representation of the thought or concept you wish to convey. It is less likely the recipient will misunderstand the message.
  • It grabs and maintains the learner’s attention. Contrast the idea of a clear diagram or infographic with an oral or written description of the same concept. Learners prefer the visual depiction.

Incorporating Visuals Into Training

Here are six easy steps for using visual information to communicate information to your team.

1. Identify Your Main Concepts
Once you have an outline of what you want to include in your learning solution, you can choose key points to highlight with a visual representation. These key points could include:

  • Ideas that can be reinforced through visual imagery
  • Data or calculations that can be represented as a graphic
  • Steps in a process visually represented by numbers or images
  • The action you want your learners to take

2. Look for Visuals That Convey Your Concept
Perform a Google search for key concepts you can represent with an image (for example, a stop sign for conveying no, a shield for protection, or another relevant symbol).

  • Make a list of your main points and see what type of images other people use to convey them. Search for topics in your chosen category and see what is being used (graphics and visuals).
  • Think about how to present those images in a way that learners will understand.
  • Brainstorm ideas to help you convey critical information. Try analogies to help tie concepts together.
  • Choose images and create infographics, charts, and diagrams to relay your message. Let your images do most of the work for you. Condense the written text into a shorter chunk to maximize the effect of the imagery.

3. Consider Emotions When You Choose Images
Choose images that depict the appropriate emotion. Don’t unintentionally choose images with a negative connotation; you may unknowingly trigger negative emotions or create an adverse effect.


Certain emotions can motivate some people to act. Anger or fear can motivate people to react. Fear can also promote sharing information in an attempt to warn others of dire consequences. Testing images before using them may come in handy for determining the outcome ahead of time.

4. Choose Your Image Type
Because information can be conveyed in a number of ways, it’s important to choose the right visual format for your message. For example, borrow the principles from marketing. If you want to heighten emotion and realism, choose a photo; if you want to convey simplicity, choose an iconographic style.

When selecting an image, consider the purpose for using it and what you want it to represent. Here are some popular image types:

  • Icons
  • Charts or graphs
  • Photographs
  • Infographics
  • Illustrations
  • Animated GIFs
  • Hand drawings

5. Introduce Your Image With a Heading
Make your headline brief, focused, and tailored for your intended audience. If you are presenting a series of topics, break up these topics by using multiple visuals instead of just one. Breaking visuals and text into digestible chunks can help your audience understand a complex problem or issue more easily.

6. Use the Most Effective Image as a Key Visual in Your Course
Marketers use key visuals across all their campaign channels. Similarly, L&D professionals can use a key visual to ground learners in a concept. An effective visual can become the course map or menu for a course. A key visual may be a diagram of the main concept that you repeatedly refer to. A strong key visual can instantly convey emotion, insight, or a model.

Visuals have been used for centuries to convey important thoughts or concepts. Incorporating visuals into your learning solutions will enable your team to grasp complex problems more quickly and easily and keep them engaged in the process.

For a deeper dive, join me February 9, 2022 at ATD TechKnowledge for the session An Advertiser’s Secrets to Compelling Learning Videos.

About the Author

Danielle Wallace is the chief learning strategist at Beyond the Sky, a provider of custom learning solutions. She combines proven marketing techniques with adult learning principles to create learning that sticks. Previously, as a marketing executive with Procter & Gamble and PepsiCo, she learned strategic marketing and advertising principles, which she applies to learning and development to create compelling breakthrough solutions. Danielle is also a certified training and development professional (CTDP).

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