It is said that an image is worth a thousand words


Yes it is true that words allow us to describe reality with hairs and signs, but images are directly a representation of that reality.

But despite the fact that visual thinking seems to be a fundamental aspect of our way of processing information, the truth is that in the educational field graphic methods have been largely neglected and textual and oral explanations of the contents have been prioritized. teach in class.

However, in the middle of the last century a new conception emerged, visual thinking or "visual thinking" that sought to recover 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 or "visual thinking" is a pedagogical approach that maintains that, since the mind prefers to work with images rather than verbalized language , the ideal 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 defends the use of graphic resources to be able to express ideas and concepts in a way that is easier for our brain to assimilate , relying on graphic representations of textual and audiovisual content.

1. Importance of visual thinking

Human beings 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 that our brain receives is visual and we process images much faster than any information that is given to us in the form of text or through oral language. Visual information leaves a deeper impression on us than what we read or what they tell us.

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

Although language is very useful, it is neither perceptive nor immediate , in addition to requiring a priori reflection. Written and oral language tells us about what has already been heard, seen or thought, not part of a direct contact with reality, but rather a long description of what it is. Although we can think using verbalized language, what some call "mentalés", it is not possible to think quickly without resorting to images. In fact, thinking of a concept using images makes that concept better understood and, also, better remembered.

But despite the fact that it was known for quite some time that human beings tend to resort to images, traditional education has played down this fact. As written and oral culture developed, it was preferred to resort to written text since it allowed information to be transmitted more easily and unequivocally, but its expressiveness and ease of memorization were also sacrificed.

The idea behind the theorists of visual thinking or "visual thinking" is to recover visual language as a tool to better understand and explain reality . Instead of focusing so much on reading texts with few descriptive images, resorting to visual support and, also, inviting learners to describe their ideas using graphics, drawings or pictograms, a better option to facilitate learning is increasingly being considered.

2. The figure of Rudolf Arnheim

One cannot speak of visual thinking as a pedagogical doctrine without mentioning one of its greatest exponents: Rudolf Arnheim. This German psychologist published in 1969 a work with the same title, "Visual Thinking" which, already in the middle of the 20th century, was going ahead in considering that the traditional methodology in education had failed . Vision was a primary medium for thought but it had been neglected in the classroom giving priority to written words, which sometimes refer to ideas defined in a way too abstract to be understood without images.

Thus, Arnheim argued that people learn much richer through sight, either by appealing to sensations and nuances, aspects that verbalized language could not adequately express. Visual methods should be introduced in textbooks and in classes and see if students could express the ideas seen in class through drawings or visual aids. If they were successful, it meant that they had managed to internalize and understand what was seen in class in addition to making use of their creativity.

3. Dan Roam's method

Another of the great references of the concept of visual thinking is Dan Roam, who proposed a method to be able to develop it in his book "Your world on a napkin" of 2010 , in which he defends the idea that the drawings or images of any type serve to better communicate, outline, and summarize our ideas rather than resort to written text. However, before transforming a concept into a visual representation, you need to ask yourself a few questions:

  • Who is this idea for?
  • How much should be summarized?
  • Where to do it? What type of visual support will be used?
  • How to do it?
  • When to expose it?
  • Why give it visual support?

Once these questions are answered, the process of transforming an idea into something visual begins. To do this, Roam speaks of four phases:

1. Look

Information is collected and selected , focusing on what is most important that accurately represents the idea.

2. View

Patterns are recognized and the most interesting is selected thinking about the public that will receive the visual message, suitably grouping the information that is possessed.

3. Imagine

The information is reorganized , detecting what may have escaped us or that may attract the attention of the public receiving the message, in addition to this being the moment in which new ideas are imagined that can give a creative push to the visual representation of the concept to be expressed. .

4. Show

Finally , the information is synthesized and clarity is given to everything that has been raised in the previous phases. It is at this moment that the idea that has been transformed into a visual concept is shown.

Any visual support can be useful to present any idea. Either through diagrams, graphs, visual infographics or any visual element, the public can assimilate and handle an idea that in textual and oral terms can become too abstract.

Advantages of promoting visual thinking

Especially at the teaching level, promoting visual thinking implies many advantages, especially because, as we have already commented, it helps in understanding concepts and ideas that, when defined textually, may not be fully captured. Although we must not forget that texts are not an element to be dispensed with in education, visual supports should also be in the classroom , helping to better assimilate what textbooks try to express.

But showing images to students not only helps them assimilate the concepts, but also asks them to use their own visual thinking skills. Asking the students to try to express graphically what was exposed in class is a very good way to get them to work on that idea, try to understand it, and handle it beyond its verbalized definition. The student has to think about the idea, synthesize it and finally represent it in an original way and understand what it is. Thus, metacognition and retention of the learning taught in the classroom are encouraged.

We also encourage creativity in the classroom, an aspect that is largely neglected in traditional education, being only seen in subjects considered purely artistic such as music or plastic arts. Each individual can have a very different way of representing the same concept and that is not a bad thing, quite the contrary. By asking students to graphically represent a given concept in class, their imagination is given full freedom, something that makes learning seen as a fun and enjoyable activity.

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