7 Things You Should Know About
Visual Literacy

1. What is it?

Visual literacy is the ability to:
  • interpret, and make meaning from information presented in an image,
  • communicate effectively through principles of design,
  • produce visual messages, and
  • use visual thinking to conceptualize solutions to problems.

2. Who's doing it?

Everyone, every day. We learn visually from childhood. We interpret facial expressions, feel warmth in the color red and connect dots to make pictures. As we gain knowledge, we learn to read graphs, charts and maps, recognize symbols and understand cultural meanings in visuals.

3. How does it work?

Visual literacy is looking at visual information, perceiving meaning, and making decisions based on what is seen. Visual literacy is learned by viewing and analyzing images and possibly more effectively, by interpreting concepts into visual imagery when involved in producing visual media.

With new technologies becoming more accessible, images, video, audio and words can now be used together to communicate. Image along with text constructs deeper, richer meanings and new ways to interact with information. In some cases, images alone can stand on their own to send messages without words.

4. Why is it significant?

Our modern technology-driven society demands a level of communication that includes visuals as well as text. Literacy education empowers students with the tools to communicate and thrive successfully in society but the tools are ineffective without knowledge of how to communicate visually.

Exploring concepts and skills related to seeing, drawing, diagramming, and imagining helps build visual literacy skills. Likewise, understanding how to analyze design elements - line, shape, form, space, color and texture, and understand design principles - balance, movement, pattern, proportion and unity, is vital in interpreting and producing digital media.

Visual literacy is also significant because seeing is no longer believing. Today it is easy to manipulate images. Cropping, adding or deleting people and/or elements, switching backgrounds, and adding special effects are all within reach using common software. Are students prepared to look at an image and ask critical questions? "Does I tell the truth?  How depictive is the image? What is the source of the image? Are we responding to the image in context or emotionally?

5. What are the downsides?

Access to technology, people seeing the value in it, and time. Faculty may not be as comfortable with the technology or communicating in today's digital social society. Students may not take in consideration the ramifications of sharing certain images online or understand copyright.

6. Where is it going?

As technology advances, it offers more opportunities to communicate visually. People can now interact with maps, include geotags with text, images and video, snap a photo or take a video and send it to a friend on their phone and view products in 3D on the web.   Educators are increasingly promoting the learning of visual literacies and helping students develop skills in order to survive and communicate in a highly complex world.

7. What are the implications for teaching?

Students gain a better understanding of new concepts when they are encouraged to make nonlinguistic representations of their understanding. Research shows that we acquire and store knowledge in two ways: linguistic (by reading or hearing lectures), and nonlinguistic (through visual imagery, kinesthetic or whole-body modes, etc).

"The more students use both systems of representing knowledge, the better they are able to think about and recall what they have learned" (Marzano, Pickering, & Pollock, 2001).