One of the most common questions is “why use visuals when teaching online?” The answer is simple – engagement.

Tutorials with visuals are easier to understand and remember. Provide a visual backdrop to your tutorials. Using visuals will help your tutorials be found online. Visuals are a good idea while teaching online. Each and every student learns differently, yet visuals are a potent tool to use in the classroom. When students can visualize concepts and ideas, they can better understand them. There is a saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. So why not use visuals when teaching online? Visuals offer a point of reference for students. They provide something that students can associate with the lesson being taught. As humans, we have been using visual aids to communicate for thousands of years.

Cave paintings and hieroglyphics were ways in which ancient peoples communicated with one another. For instance, if you were teaching about writing history, you would want to include some pictures of cave paintings or hieroglyphics. Your students could see exactly what you were talking about by doing so. Visually appealing content is a hallmark of MOOCs. Incorporating video, images and graphics into online courses makes them more engaging and interactive. But why are visuals so important for learning?
Visuals can help learners focus. The human brain processes visuals 60,000 times faster than text. We notice images first when scanning a web page or newspaper. Visuals also help us retain information better. 65% of the population are visual learners.

People have been saying for decades that we’re at the dawn of the age of visual communications. But it’s true, and we’re living in it. If you look around, visuals are everywhere: Multimillion-dollar Super Bowl ads are all carefully crafted videos. News outlets use more and more videos to tell their stories. And long-form text articles are often complimented with compelling photos or videos.
The rise of visual communications is not a fad; it’s a fundamental shift in how people communicate. We’ve known for years that visuals help people learn better. They help learners understand and remember information, provide more efficient ways to process information, and improve motivation and engagement in learning experiences.

Consider these statistics from researchers at 3M:

  • Learn more than 600% when images are included in presentations.
  • 91% of people are more likely to read online content that includes coloured visuals.
  • Visually engaging content helps learners pay attention to your course content. It also helps them remember what they’ve learned, which means it’s more likely to stick with them after the course is over.
  • And visuals aren’t just helpful for learners; instructors can also benefit from using visuals. Here’s how you can use images in your course to make it more effective and memorable.

Visuals keep learners engaged

Learners and teachers tend to feel that they can’t use music, gifs, memes, and other visuals within the context of learning. You might be afraid that they’ll be perceived as “not serious enough” or “too silly” or “wasting time”. But I think visuals are crucial to learning.
Visuals reinforce concepts, help us understand complex information, and keep us entertained along the way.

For many learners, visuals help keep them engaged in the learning process. They break up text-heavy content and add variety. And whether you’re using images, videos, or infographics, visuals give your learners something to discuss and share on social media.

For example, if you’re creating a course about how to make a great cup of coffee, you could:

  • Use an image to show your learners the different coffee beans they could use.
  • Include a video that shows your learners how to roast the beans.
  • Create an infographic that explains the different brewing methods.

Visuals are a great way to keep learners engaged. Here are a few guidelines to help you use visuals in your e-learning course.

  • Use images that are relevant to the content
  • Use relevant visual elements such as charts, graphs and illustrations to explain the concept. Appropriate visuals help learners grasp the concepts easily.
  • Use a variety of visual elements.
  • Use exciting and attractive visuals such as photographs, infographics, diagrams and flowcharts, which will make your course look more appealing and engaging.
  • Keep your visuals simple.
  • Keep your visuals simple so that they do not distract the learner from the main content. Do not fill every screen with visuals; keep some screens entirely textual or just with one image.

Visuals help learners understand complex concepts

When you’re trying to learn something complex, it helps break the task down into subparts. But it’s challenging to identify the right subparts if you don’t yet understand the big picture. Luckily, there is a medium that works well for both: visuals. Diagrams can be used simply because they omit irrelevant detail, or they can be used to generalize because they highlight analogies and patterns, or both at once.

Good diagrams are often the key to understanding hard things. I’ve been studying how to draw and use them better in the last few years and how diagrams can help people learn. Visuals are deeply embedded in the way we learn and think. This makes them a powerful tool for learning. They’re also an integral part of how we communicate and express ideas. Visuals help learners recognize patterns, detect trends, and understand complex concepts more quickly. Visuals help learners see the “big picture” or the “forest” first and then break it down into smaller components (the “trees”). When the learner first understands the big picture, they can focus on the details without losing sight of how they fit in with the whole concept.
Visuals help learners make sense of complex information by providing a framework that helps to organize ideas logically. They can help learners understand relationships between otherwise unrelated things, such as cause-and-effect relationships or sequences in time (for example, before-after).

Visuals aid in memory and retention

Visuals are an essential part of the learning process. We remember 80% of what we see and do, compared to only 20% of what we read. Visuals also help learners retain information in the long term. It’s great to see such a high interest in visual learning. But one thing might get in the way: you might not know how to create quality visuals yourself. You don’t need to be a professional designer to create eye-catching visuals that boost engagement and retention. You need to know some of the basic rules around using visuals for learning.

Whether you’re creating videos, infographics, or slide decks, these tips will help you create visuals that support your learning content and keep learners engaged. But when we look at the research on how learning works, it’s clear that visuals help students understand complex concepts. It is well established that visuals can be excellent supplements to the text. An old and well-known study shows that when people are asked to remember random pairs of numbers, they retain fewer items and have lower accuracy when the numbers are presented visually than when they are presented verbally. But the same study found that this is only true for easy information. The more complex the information, the better people perform when presented visually. In another study, researchers divided subjects into two groups and asked them to learn about programming in visual or textual format. They found that the visual format produced a much higher retention rate for beginners than the textual one.

Another study examined whether visuals improved retention in an online course covering very complicated material: computer science concepts like “binary trees” and “dynamic programming.” Students who learned with purely textual explanations did worse than students who also received diagrams. The researchers concluded that “diagrams to explain difficult concepts in computer science courses can enhance student performance.”

A final study looked at how much students retained after reading texts accompanied by either graphs or tables. It found that graphs were much more effective even though they required more effort to read than tables. There are several possible reasons for this, but one is that charts provide a lot of information at-a-glance, and they also help with comparison and abstraction.

It’s a good idea to ask yourself whether there’s a visual way to present information effectively. For example:

  • Can you turn a piece of text into a graph?
  • Could an image replace the body text?
  • Can you create an infographic?

If none of those options works, then images can still be used to break up the text and draw attention to important points.

Visuals can enhance your online instruction

Visuals are an essential component of online learning. They help break up the monotony of text and facilitate knowledge transfer. Visuals also improve “retention, recall, understanding, enjoyment, and motivation” (Mayer & Moreno, 2003). For this reason, it is essential to consider how you can use visuals to enhance your online instruction.
When developing visuals for online instruction, it is essential to follow the guidelines presented by Mayer (2009) in his book Multimedia Learning. These guidelines include the following:

Coherence principle – reduce extraneous cognitive processing by preventing learners from being distracted by irrelevant or confusing material.

Signalling principle – guide the learner’s attention to the critical material in a lesson.

Segmenting principle – provide content in small manageable chunks.

Pre-training principle – make sure your visuals are designed so that learners can understand them before they read the explanatory text.

Modality principle – present verbal information using words and narration and present nonverbal communication using graphics, pictures, and animation.

Redundancy principle – do not present both verbal and visual representations of the same content simultaneously since this can cause cognitive overload for some learners. The modality principle states that people learn better from words and pictures than from words alone. To maximize learning, use both words and images to convey information.

  • Use graphics that are meaningful and relevant to the subject matter.
  • Avoid superfluous graphics or distract from the main point of what you are trying to teach.
  • Present information on a single screen with no more than six words per line and five lines per screen. This reduces the cognitive load on the learner by reducing the need to scan and search for information on the screen.
  • Use animations sparingly, only where they aid understanding of a concept. They should not be busy or complex and avoid distracting sounds and music.

Visuals can replace direct instruction

Some instructors have found that simply by having students create visual representations of their understanding of the course content and then share them with their classmates, they can help students learn and retain the material better than if they had delivered a lecture on it.
The act of creating something visual forces students to synthesize the information. Once they have done so, they are better able to recall it later when needed.

Visuals provide opportunities for assessment

When you have asked students to create a visual representation of their grasp of the material, you have something concrete that you can assess. This assessment can determine whether your class needs additional instruction or review. For example, a common experience for many teachers is to begin a new lesson only to discover that some portion of the class didn’t remember or completely understand the previous lesson’s content.
Using visuals throughout your course allows you to evaluate student progress in real-time and adjust accordingly.

Visuals can be great for brainstorming

If you’re working on a large project with multiple people involved, try using a mind mapping tool like MindMup or Coggle (there are many others) to map out ideas together. Take advantage of the ability to add images and links and invite others to contribute. You can head over to our previous blog called Top 16 tools to keep your online class engaged and responsive to find more tools that will help you.

Visuals are an engaging way to give feedback

You might add comments in an online word processing document when giving feedback on student work. If possible, include some simple visuals — arrows pointing to specific parts of the work that need improvement or positive reinforcement, sketches of your own or other images that show what you mean.
You might find that combining visual cues with written explanations can be more effective than just writing feedback by itself.

Resources for visuals to use in online classes

Visuals are also relatively easy to work with. You can do a whole lot with visuals in online classes. They are great for conveying information and engaging students, but they can also be used to set the tone of your class and provide some personality. You don’t need any particular skill or software to create them.
Google Images
provides a library with millions of free images. Design tools like Canva and Venngage offer templates that make it easy to create professional-looking visuals even if you have no prior experience.

There’s no shortage of websites where you can find images you can use in your class:

  • Unsplash - A collection of high-quality images that are free to be used in any way possible. They’re added almost daily by a community of photographers.
  • Pexels - Another great site with a massive selection of images, including several categories for finding the right image.
  • Pixabay - This site has an extensive selection of images and illustrations to choose from, including many different types of photos. While it’s not as large as some other sites, there’s still plenty to choose from here.
  • Splitshire - Another trendy photography website that provides free stock photos for personal or commercial use. Many businesses use the images on their websites and ads, so they’re high quality.


Visuals are beneficial in online teaching because they help students learn faster and remember better. Overall, visual design can make or break a course. Visuals should be used to support the content (in most cases), but they also add plenty of benefits. Incorporating visuals into your online course is so crucial that it could potentially help expand the reach of your course.

At the very least, visuals make for a more immersive learning experience for your students, which can do wonders for retaining your audience. The trend towards visual learning has been going on for years now. The truth is that we learn better when we can associate an image with the knowledge that we’re trying to acquire. That’s why infographics have become so popular, and it’s a phenomenon that’s only going to continue to grow.
I hope the advice in this article will help you take advantage of this developing trend. Not only will you be able to make your online course more attractive to learners, but it can also help you retain information more effectively.

Riddhima Parkar
Content Marketing Associate
Table of Content
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