Visuals for Learning

Andrew Webster, May 6, 2009

Here at ExperiencePoint, we have a Friday ritual that contributes to our continued learning called the “Share Piece”.  It involves one of our team taking 45 minutes and sharing something that they expect the group will find valuable.  The source is usually a business book, and this works out well.  We get a great synopsis, and there’s usually an accompanying presentation.

For my Share Piece, I considered the visuals that had so impressed me in previous share pieces.  Why was I able to remember them so well?  Did they have an impact on my retention?  Accordingly, I decided to deliver my Share Piece about “Visuals for Learning” in the form of a Pecha Kucha presentation (full disclosure: the presentation was a miserable failure, I ignored my own advice and overwhelmed the visuals with too many spoken words.  Luckily, a crowd that values practice as we do is a forgiving one.)

Here’s the Pecha Kucha formula for presenting:

  1. 20 slides
  2. 20 seconds per slide
  3. sit down and shut up

It’s the 3rd bit that I struggle with.  There’s lots out there about pecha-kucha, including a YouTube incarnation/explanation by Whole New Mind author Dan Pink.


Pecha-kucha is the medium… kinda.  The message was about the pedagogical value of visuals.  There are countless advantages to leveraging visuals to enhance learning.  I’ll focus on recall.  Check out this discussion about recall percentages with/without visuals.  There’s reference here to Lionel Standing’s 10,000 pictures study.  The long and short is this:

  • Individuals are shown 10,000 pics in five days (yes, that does sound insane)
  • After seeing all 10k pics, subjects are shown some of these again, but all mixed up with other pics they haven’t seen
  • Subjects are able to recognize which were ones they were already shown with 83% (!) accuracy
  • The more vivid the image, the more likely a subject was to recall it (hence the gratuitous cool trippy butterfly pic)
  • Standing extrapolates that if you see 1M vivid images, then you would remember 98% of them in the near term, and 73% in the long term

So naturally, you’ll remember this blog post for years to come; thanks to our friend the vivid butterfly.

Oh no… I’ve done it again, haven’t I?  Overwhelming with words – this time the single visual in a blog post about visuals… We’ll have to chalk this up to practice as well.

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