The Updated Role of Visual Learning

Recently, I was having a quick lunch in the basement of the cathedral when I overheard two former Pitt students discussing how much “easier” a current student’s academic journey is now, than it was in their day. Their words were angry amidst snorts, frantic hand gestures, and dumbfounded expressions. They felt envious of and cheated by our access to the Internet and the “easy” research it permitted. In their minds, today’s degree is more easily attainable than it was when they were in the pursuit of higher learning. While I am not saying I disagree, our access to information definitely does simplify many obstacles in academic research; I also believe that our minds were trained differently. My generation is the first to grow up with computers and the Internet. I remember having computer classes all through elementary school where we’d wait patiently among a symphony of the two to three minute dial-up tone (I could insert an onomatopoeic representation now, but I’ll resist). At home, no one could use the phone during the dial-up process because it would ruin the connection of the researcher or the hearing of the caller. Children today never lived through the technological pains of patience. They are so accustomed to easy access to information and the instant gratification that technology provides that their brains require tangible, faster, more visual information.

For this reason, The Best American Infographics is a vital resource for future educators, statisticians, and effective persuaders. Light on words, the author utilizes color, arrows, symbols, and images to present coherent information to the audience. Infographics give new light to the idea of being a visual learner. Before opening this book, I was ignorant to the idea of infographics, until I happened upon an explanatory description of the enigmatic concept that lessened my ignorance: “a data visualization.” Infographics are a less wordy depiction of information used in all forms of online and printed communication outlets.  They add visual appeal with an organized intertwining of color and fact. Most boast bold fonts, bright colors and organizational arrows to direct the information to readers in a coherent flow. The brightest colors usually mark the most important information. These color triggers and proportional relay of evidence allow our brains to comprehend the magnitude of information. Without effort, our brains are attracted to the brighter colors like red and bright orange, which helps us perceive this information as most important. As discussed in Monday’s class, our brains are physically incapable of perceiving certain information: like how much money $1 trillion dollars really is. Infographics fill that void with visual representation.

However, not all are for informational purposes; one of the examples from the book is a visual juxtaposition of quarterback Tom Brady and Peyton Manning’s hairstyles over their decade of athletic rivalry. The art director of Sports Illustrated, and the subsequent creator of this infographic, developed it as a way to break up the wordiness of the magazine and add a slick touch humor. He added the infographic for comical, visual appeal—an aesthetic quality. Another humorous infographic from the book is a comparison of Justin Bieber’s wardrobe from introduction to full-blown celebrity (Page 66-67). Obviously, this form of comparison is much more effective than a worded comparison because it captures his essence with visual (and comedic) simplicity.

One of my favorite examples from the book with statistic information is titled, “Where the Closet is Still Common: Where gay men live—and where they hide.” You can find it on page 32 of “The Best American Infographics.” Here, the artist, Bill Marsh of the New York Times, utilized quantitative analysis to search the Internet for sexual status listings, gay porn statistics, and homosexual tolerance levels. His infographic lives in three parts: a map of the United States showing how gay-tolerant each state is by color, a chart of gay-tolerance comparing high school boys to adults, and a comparison between Rhode Island and Mississippi. As a reader, if you were presented with all of these statistics and a listing of each state by tolerance level, you’d quickly lose interest in the topic. A visual example, however, thrives in this setting with the complexity and amount of information.

Infographics can also relay important statistics and scientific facts in a visually friendly format. An artist, for example, created a flower-like model of the number of casualties from all of the wars between 1900-2010. The way the audience regards the visual appeal of the flowers has a more profound effect on information retention because Americans are so desensitized by words about violence, war, and death. When words fall short, the flowers help us understand the brevity of death and the cost of war in a profound way.

The amount of information available in such few words is going to reshape the way we learn and understand. As our world becomes more and more reliant on the Internet and instant gratification, the infograph’s day in mainstream light is soon approaching. In fact, if you look below, I have attached a link of a website showing interaction infographics. Some of the examples are downright ridiculous, but the way the information is presented is worth the click.

As discussed in class on Monday, our infographic assignment is due next week. With the proximity of the deadline, I have attached a reference link below of a video tutorial explaining how to make a person infographic.

Hope this helps!








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