Research has demonstrated that visuals improve learning for many students. Medina (2008) notes that “we learn and remember best through pictures, not through written or spoken words” (p. 1), while Dunlap and Lowenthal (2016) state that “people learn and remember more efficiently and effectively through the use of text and visuals than through text alone” (p. 1). This led me to ask whether infographics, which combine pictures and text, can improve learning for online students. To find out, I created infographics to supplement information and facilitate the spaced repetition of engagement in an online management course. Students reported that this simple addition to the course helped improve their learning.
For this informal study, I created a weekly infographic that summarized the week’s content. Each week contained a course lecture, course discussion, course readings, and a written assignment. On the last day of the week, I posted an infographic weekly summary with five key points from the weekly content and an optional true-false quiz to complete regarding the infographic summary details. After the course conclusion, I offered a post-assessment survey, asking five questions about the student’s experiences learning with infographics.
While there are sundry tools available to create quality visuals, I selected Canva because it offers many free templates and pictures. Plus, its simple search, drag, and drop process for modifying templates is easy to use. I chose a single template for all the infographics, switching only the text placed next to the pictures. Visually, the infographics had a solid tan background and a small red border, the key words were in small black font, and the overall visual emphasis was on the key pictures (Figure 1). I deliberately maintained a consistent format with the intent of supporting student familiarity with the tool.
Figure 1. Sample infographic showing a basic design template
To create each week’s infographic, I identified five or six key concepts that the students needed to fully comprehend to be successful with the upcoming weekly content. I communicated the five key points with a picture and three to five descriptive words. Then students completed an optional quiz on the topics in the LMS. Despite being optional, between 84 and 90 percent of students took the quiz each week. According to the post-course assessment, 95 percent of the students in the class found the infographics valuable to their learning.
Students expressed a preference for some infographics over the others, stating that they preferred the infographics that “set up [offered course foundation concepts] for the rest of the course” and “summarized major course ideas.” Specifically, the students identified infographics from weeks 1 and 2 as the most meaningful because these infographics presented foundational ideas that were referenced throughout the entire course. The less preferred infographics offered valuable ideas but not foundational course concepts.
While infographics have great communication potential, the infographic designer’s ability to communicate succinctly with visuals will contribute to or detract from the effectiveness of the learning tool (Jordan, n.d.). In other words, not all infographics are created equally. In fact, literature demonstrates that there are clear techniques that must be applied to communicate effectively through infographics. Most importantly, infographics should have a simple design, focus on a single topic, and appeal to the audience’s needs (Harris, 2013).
My study showed that the best infographics summarize course concepts that are applied throughout the course. One student said, “I liked the simplicity of the high-level concepts.” They should also be meaningful in that the imagery and design relate to the concepts communicated in the text. While simple, infographics facilitate the spaced repetition of engagement with course concepts that improves learning.
Dunlap, J. C., & Lowenthal, P. R. (2016). Getting graphic about infographics: Design lessons learned from popular infographics. Journal of Visual Literacy, 35(1), 42–59. https://doi.org/10.1080/1051144X.2016.1205832
Harris, S. (2013). 5 Important principles of effective infographics. Search Engine Journal. https://www.envisionup.com/blog/5-key-elements-of-a-successful-infographic
Jordan, C. (n.d.). How designers do it: 15 easy steps to design an infographic from scratch. Canva. https://www.canva.com/learn/create-infographics
Lamb, A., & Johnson, L. (2014, April). Infographics part 1: Invitations to inquiry. Teacher Librarian, 41(4), 54–58. https://scholarworks.iupui.edu/handle/1805/8589
Lamb, A., & Johnson, L. (2014, June). Infographics part 2: Practical ideas for your school library. Teacher Librarian, 41(5), 64–67. https://scholarworks.iupui.edu/handle/1805/8588
Medina, J. (2008). Brain rules: 12 principles for surviving and thriving at work, home and school. Pear Press.
Jillian Ruth Yarbrough, PhD, is a clinical assistant professor of management at West Texas A&M University.