The importance of pictures in e-learning

A picture paints a thousands words, so the saying goes, but does it?  In e-learning, do pictures and images really add more than a good text description? There are the different learning styles to consider.

Whilst some learners might find it really helpful to have a visual representation others would much prefer a clear, concise description. In my view give the learner both and you’re doubling their chance of understanding and consolidating the knowledge you are trying to impart.

Some learning would be almost impossible without visual aids.

For example, if you ask someone on the street for directions more than likely they’ll point and talk you through the route you need. The first part will probably be easy to follow as they point out landmarks and the direction you need to go in. Once you pass the point where they could do this it is likely you’ll become more disorientated. Trying to remember, 3rd left, 4th right, traffics lights, roundabout blah blah blah without a visual or paper based map and suddenly you’re lost again!

But what about general pictures?

Most e-learning modules have a variety of pictures often seemingly serving no greater purpose than to break up the monotony of pure text.  But actually these images have a much greater significance than you might first think. One of the most frequently used types of pictures in e-learning is for case studies whether real or fictional. Images of people help you relate to what is being said, it makes it easier to empathise with the issues and points being raised.

Look at the screen below and consider whether it would be as effective without the picture of Albert. Giving Albert a face helps the learner to relate and empathise with his story much easier than without a visual representation.  Relating to Albert will help embed the key learning points and hopefully make it easier to apply them in practise in similar situations. This is just one way of using pictures in e-learning, in the second part of this blog we’ll explore different types of pictures and what they add to the learning experience.

There are many ways that pictures can enhance your e-learning:

Photo stories

Photo stories are a great way of bringing your e-learning to life. The example below takes the learner through a situation before getting them to consider how they would have dealt with it.

Process diagrams

With detailed process diagrams that show the flow through them are vital to most learners for good understanding. Using bright colours and clear concise text the learner can see at a glance the path they need to follow.

Visual representation of concepts

The example below shows a fairly simple concept but if it is being introduced alongside a number of ideas that are new to the learner a visual representation can really help them remember it.This diagram clearly shows that there are three key areas that protect dignity.  When questioned on them recalling the diagram will help them remember what each of the three

This diagram clearly shows that there are three key areas that protect dignity.  When questioned on them recalling the diagram will help them remember what each of the three are.


Signposts form a more basic function of enabling your learner to know where they are the e-learning. Reusing simple signpost graphics like this one helps the learner know where they are within the module and what to expect next. This is just a small sample of ways that pictures can be used in e-learning. I’m sure you can think of much more. Never underestimate pictures in e-learning, they may not all speak a 1,000 words but they are certainly a valuable addition to your content.


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