The Power of Infographics in Online Education

In today’s digital age, the ability to communicate your message in a clear, simple, and attractive way is essential. Infographics are a great educational tool that you can use to help your students make connections and inspire engagement with the material. This article discusses some of the benefits of using infographics and other visual content and also provides examples of Web tools you can use to easily create and incorporate infographics in your course content.

What Are Infographics?

Data visualization tools—such as bar graphs, pie charts, and timelines—have existed for a long time. These standard formats make content such as data and statistics easier to see and digest so that the meaning of content is more relatable and impactful for many students.

Unlike traditional data visualization, infographics incorporate text and images together to convey a complex idea in a creative, easy-to-understand way (Darling, 2017; Pritchard, 2016). Whether it’s creatively explaining relevant statistics or breaking down vast amounts of information into more manageable segments, infographics are highly versatile; the design options are limitless, and you can use them for many different subjects or topics. Instructors can use these creative visuals to essentially tell a story with the information they’re trying to convey to students.

Attention and Capacity

People today receive five times as much information as they did in 1986 (Alleyne, 2011). Advances in technology bring easier and faster access to everything from news and social experiences to knowledge and research. The constant flow of information is an ever-present temptation for students to click away from your class and engage in something else.

However, images have a way of capturing viewers’ attention that text may not always achieve. Eye-tracking studies show that people pay more attention to information-rich images on a website and readers spend more time looking at those images than reading text on the same page. In addition, researchers found that visitors only really look at 20% of the text on a Web page (Nielsen, 2010).

This information overload means all this data is competing for students’ head space, so presenting content in a way that takes advantage of how the human eye works is important. The eye is very efficient at communicating with the brain and processing visual information. In fractions of a second, the brain can process symbols and attach meaning to them (Thorpe, Fize, & Marlot, 1996). Because infographics associate concepts and ideas with iconography, they naturally tap into this processing power and can help students engage more deeply with your content.

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For more tips on how you can leverage the brain’s natural processes to enhance your content, see our article “Principles of Multimedia Learning.”

Appeal and Engagement

To harness the power of the human brain and eyes, your course needs to provide something to initially attract students. The obvious advantage of infographics is that if they’re visually appealing, viewers will be drawn in and inspired to engage with the content. Where text may fall short, interesting and relevant images often reach and appeal to a broader audience, which leads to more interaction, participation, and engagement.

Using social media websites like Twitter and Facebook as an example, posts with images result in significantly more engagement (via actions such as responses and sharing) than posts without images. Tweets with images get 150% more retweets than those without images (Cooper, 2013), and Facebook posts with images see 230% more engagement than those with text only (Pinantoan, 2015).


A great benefit of using infographics is that well-executed visuals, in combination with interesting and accurate information, can result in that content having an increased lifespan. This effect is often referred to as the content being “evergreen,” meaning that people share and circulate it through social media platforms indefinitely (Miranda, 2013). In the classroom, content being evergreen has a couple of different implications: (1) You can use infographics over multiple terms, and (2) students may be more likely to engage with the content during and even after your course.

Retention

Attractive graphics that catch students’ attention is one thing, but more importantly, we want to ensure that students are able to retain and use the content they find in your infographics. After all, why create an informative and visually appealing piece if it’s not educationally useful?

Research shows that when people follow directions that include illustrations in addition to text, they perform the task 323% better than those who followed the same instructions without illustrations (Levie & Lentz, 1982). So it may be worth considering developing infographics for summative assessments, particularly those with multiple steps or components.

Visual content also tends to have a greater impact than auditory content. One study showed that if people listen to information, they’re likely to remember just 10% of what they heard; in contrast, people retain 65% of the information when an image is included (Medina, 2014). Thus, infographics are a useful tool for helping students retain the content you’re teaching them.

For more on how to structure visual content for maximum retention, see our article on cognitive load theory.

Conclusion

To make content stand out against the sea of information in today’s world, instructors should take advantage of the power of infographics. Research shows that, in addition to being eye catching and visually appealing, infographics can help students better comprehend and retain large amounts of information. Although creating infographics may seem intimidating at first, many tools are available to make the process quick, simple, and enjoyable for you and your students.

Recommendations

You can use the following Web tools to create infographics and other visual assets. The tools have different features and pricing, and the best tool for you will depend on your needs and what you want to create. Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list; new tools and apps are becoming available all the time.

Also, don’t be afraid to use PowerPoint! It’s a great piece of software for gathering multiple images and text together. When you’re done, you can select all the objects on the slide and elect to save them as one image.

References

Alleyne, R. (2011, February 11). Welcome to the information age – 174 newspapers a day. The Telegraph. Retrieved from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/8316534/Welcome-to-the-information-age-174-newspapers-a-day.html

Cooper, B. B. (2013, November 13). How Twitter’s expanded images increase clicks, retweets and favorites [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://blog.bufferapp.com/the-power-of-twitters-new-expanded-images-and-how-to-make-the-most-of-it

Darling, K. (2017, May 15). What is an infographic? And how is it different from a data visualization? [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://blog.visme.co/what-is-an-infographic/

Levie, W. H., & Lentz, R. (1982, December). Effects of text illustrations: A review of research. Educational Technology Research and Development, 30(4), 195–232. doi: 10.1007/BF02765184

Medina, J. (2014, April 22). Vision: Vision trumps all other senses. Retrieved from http://www.brainrules.net/vision

Miranda, S. (2013, December 3). 10 reasons why infographics still matter in SEO [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.advancedwebranking.com/blog/10-reasons-infographics-still-matter-seo/

Nielsen, J. (2010, November 1). Photos as web content. Retrieved from https://www.nngroup.com/articles/photos-as-web-content/

Pinantoan, A. (2015, May 20). How to massively boost your blog traffic with these 5 awesome image stats [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://buzzsumo.com/blog/how-to-massively-boost-your-blog-traffic-with-these-5-awesome-image-stats/#gs.TBhrO9c

Pritchard, M. (2016, December 1). Data visualization vs. infographics [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://killerinfographics.com/blog/data-visualization-versus-infographics.html

Thorpe, S., Fize, D., & Marlot, C. (1996, June 6). Speed of processing in the human visual system. Nature, 381(6582), 520–522.

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