Why understanding visual literacy is important for educators

RIM’s main focus is on the value and strength inherent in visual imagery, and how, in an e-learning environment, meaningful and carefully conceived images and design can enhance and strengthen textual content.

We tend to make an immediate appraisal of an e-learning object or course from its visual components (images and design) before absorbing the text content, so it’s important to get the visual impact right. This requires an understanding of the ‘messages’ contained within images. In an educational context, this equates to ‘visual literacy’.

Visual literacy is the ability to interpret, negotiate, and make meaning from information presented in the form of an image, extending the meaning of literacy, which commonly signifies interpretation of a written or printed text.

The power of imagery has always been an important part of communication. It started with cave paintings, and progressed through the development of art and design to the overwhelming and sophisticated array of visual media we are surrounded with today. But can we decipher this visual onslaught and determine the difference between the meaningful and the banal?

Educators need to learn about the hidden language of visuals if they want to help students to ‘read’ images and not be manipulated by media specialists who understand how to harness this power for their own purposes.

“Visual literacy is based on the idea that pictures can be “read” and that meaning can be communicated through a process of reading”. (Wikipedia)

Here are two examples that demonstrate the impact of visual literacy in education:


“This movie was made to inspire teachers of all subject areas to appreciate the opportunity for learning using visual imagery in their classes. It offers questions that can be asked of the students to promote higher order thinking skills and deeper levels of comprehension. Created for all teachers of every grade level”.


“Created by students for teachers, this movie shows students frustrated with the lack of visuals in the classroom. Teachers need to educate themselves on the hidden language of visuals. Examples of the visual language behind film with line and colour are shown to provide a taste of what viewers are not noticing. This highlights the importance for educators to recognize the power behind visuals, not just from a visual message an image may contain, but how the science of visual literacy is used to neurologically and psychologically “manipulate” viewers by media specialists. Since our students are continually bombarded with visual imagery, it’s time visually literacy was taught, not just as an extension of English and Language Arts, but in all curricular subjects.”