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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Visual Thinking - Do You Have Questions?

I've been having a bit of dialog with various folks from the VizThink conference about whether and how much Visual Thinking relates to eLearning. See:
for background. These discussions have diverged into a discussion of whether I'd get value personally from the conference given my past challenges with being able to figure out how to create diagrams.

Well Dave Gray has decided to take this on in an online session. You can see more information and sign up by clicking this link: How is Visual Thinking Related to eLearning?

One important note on the description. It implies that I'll be answering questions - actually, I'll be asking questions. Hopefully Dave will be answering.

In fact, if you have questions that you would like to see answered, please let me know.


bill7tx said...

This page at San Diego State has some interesting information that may explain a few things (note: links on the page are broken)

My own use of various visual thinking forms (mindmaps, sketching) leads me to believe that it may be most useful in collaboration and problem-solving. In applying it to learning, it seems to me that it would be useful in constructivist/connectivist designs, much less so in traditional didactics (teaching).

Bill Brandon, eLearning Guild

bill7tx said...

T&D Magazine last year (?June? 2006) ran an article by Martha McGinnis about using visual thinking in instruction. Mostly aimed at classroom delivery, but it might help to see how it's applied there. Martha has a website that explains more (along with a LOT of promotional content) at

bill7tx said...

One last comment and then I'll shut up.

Here is a video of a "visual practitioner" at work. Steph is local here in the Dallas area, and last year provided facilitation support for an ASTD Chapter meeting.

Again, not e-Learning but maybe it will help. There is a professional organization, the IFVP, and it has a web site at

Not totally sure this is what Dave Gray is involved with, but the style is so close I have to think there's some connection.

Dick Carlson said...

My question in this area is "Is 'visual thinking' a learning style, a form factor, a cognitive method or a metaphor?"

I'm still not sure I really understand what we mean by the title -- and comparing it with e-learning just compounds the problem.

To steal from Elliott Masie, there is no such thing as e-learning. There is also no such thing as chalkboard learning. Or filmstrip learning. Or videodisc learning.

The principles of learning remain quite constant no matter what the delivery methodology chosen. Focusing on the form factor tends to confuse the issue.

Clark said...

Tony, quick pointer: eLearning Post points to a very nice introduction to infographics:

Worth checking out.

thcrawford said...

Under our current definition at VizThink, visual thinking is a methodology, approach and a philosophy that uses pictures, graphics, images, and all forms of the visual arts for learning, organization, and communication.

It's a pretty broad definition, but there are 2 basic parts. First, the visualization method or art style. We definite the visual arts very broadly. It includes things like sketching, illustration, design, photography, videography, sculpture, modeling, 3-D, etc. It is important to note that each methodology uses both creativity and visualization as core parts of their use. No one method is better than another. However, each lends itself to a particular application more or less effectively.

Second, then, is teh application of the visual arts. We believe that visualization can improve all parts of the process. Certainly, any final piece that incorporates visualization effectively will have a bigger, more sustainable impact than one that does not incorporate visualization. However, visual thinking is not just about the final product. It is also about the process. Visualization can be used for brainstorming, organization, planning, design, facilitation, note taking, feedback, evaluation, communication, and many other things.

What's interesting is that each of these can be combined in new and unique ways. For example, sketching and note taking creates a category called "graphic recording". Sketching and communication creates a category called "visual journalism". Video and communication created the opportunity for Lee LeFever's Common Craft. Photography and facilitation created teh opportunity for Christine Martell's VisualSpeak.

It's a pretty exciting world actually. Lots of opportunity to help improve learning and communication.

bill7tx said...

A little further afield, maybe, but here is the way Google is using a form of visual thinking to assist people searching for videos. And this time it's not felt-tip markers on butcher paper hung on the walls:

John Caswell said...

I read in Dan Pinks excellent book "A Whole New Mind" the following - A picture is worth a thousand words, a metaphor a thousand pictures.

I love the idea behind this but let's not forget that even words are themselves pictures. They are the way we humans have chosen to code up meaning. To me though the whole idea behind visual thinking is the power of completeness in meaning and sense to the viewer be it word, picture or metaphor.

In the past I have run short courses asking people with no drawing ability at all to start to think visually to create meaning in symbols and metaphors. It was amazing to see people start to really think about this simple idea.

To think visually is not something that many people can readily comprehend but actually what we naturally do. This is an enormous field and only just beginning to grab attention in business and education.

Thank goodness.


Anonymous said...

After reading through the comments, these are the questions I hope you address in the webinar (I am registered):

Is visual thinking the same as visual rhetoric? There has been a lot of study in the field of education and communication on visual rhetoric which might inform this "new field". Related to that is visual thing the same as spatial thinking?

What exactly entails visual thinking? What skills or abilities are necessary to trigger visual thinking? It seems to me that the definitions your blog readers have used vary from the very broad, to the more narrow definition based on their field (i.e. management, visual arts, communication, education). Related to this is how can e-learning allow students to have the SAME visual interpretation, or is that even necessary? Just looking at a piece of art, there are multiple interpretations. What happens if there are multiple visualizations and interpretations from the same visual prompt?

Finally, if we are to link visual thinking to e-learning, we have to start thinking of the students. Are e-learners more visual thinkers than traditional learners? Does technology and working with technology help to create a more visual thinker or do those that are more visual thinkers tend to prefer using technology to learn with? The answer to this question will then inform us as to how our students or trainees will adapt to visual thinking methods and what ground work needs to be done (especially for traditionally successful students) to prepare our students for e-learning.

To give an example, John mentions how many of those he trains/teaches do not have the ability to visualize. On the other hand, many of my non-traditional students that were unsuccessful in other educational settings (where the focus was on oral delivery with some supporting visuals) do very well with my designs as they are able to "visualize" the connections between multiple tasks, concepts, and visual information (words and images) presented in e-learning. The more successful traditional students have a difficult time visualizing the information and connections. They often complain that they would prefer to "talk it out".