Getting InSync » Latest Articles
Oct 04, 2016 Katelind Hays

Infographics and Your Brain: Using Science to Boost Learning

BYTE Session Recap 

36416766_s.jpgResident InSync Training design expert, Karin Rex, knows that captivating visuals can improve learning retention and the value of your training materials.

Karin’s recent BYTE session, Harnessing the Power of Infographics As Teaching Tools, highlighted these benefits. Her session, and the associated recap blog post, were so popular, we’re now sharing the science behind why graphic visuals have such power in the classroom.

Visual Communication

The popularity of infographics, especially well-designed ones, stems from the way our brains work. Karin explained:

“Your brain is extremely visually oriented. Ninety percent of the information taken by your brain is visual. Forty percent of the brain’s nerve fiber is retinal. This is the sensitive tissue at the back of the eye that receives images and sends signals to the brain about what is seen… Our visual perception is faster than thinking, and that is why infographics are such great learning tools.”

Our anatomy determines which information we retain, and much of that retention depends upon how we consume the content in question. John Media, author of Brain Rules, discovered that when we read text alone, we’re likely to remember only ten percent of that information three days later. Comparatively, 65% of information presented as text with related images will likely be recalled in the same time period.

Understanding how our learners retain information provides us with the opportunity to set them up for success in our training programs. Purposefully designed infographics are a great tool when framed against our brain’s visual communication system.

Cognitive Load

Karin made sure to explain that infographics are not created equal from a neuroscience point-of-view. Intelligently designed infographics have greater cognitive load reduction power.

Cognitive Load Theory, credited to George Miller and John Sweller, refers to the brain’s ability to carry the “weight” of the content. At a fundamental level, the larger the cognitive load, the more you need to make sure your infographic is properly designed.

Combining Karin’s design tips with an understanding of the three types of cognitive load will help your next infographic be as effective as possible.

Cognitive Load Type 1: Intrinsic
Content that’s inherently tough for people to learn and understand (think: applied mathematics or physics), causes intrinsic cognitive overload. It’s a natural reaction to the information itself, and unfortunately, even good design can’t lighten this category of cognitive load.

Cognitive Load Type 2: Extraneous
Unnecessary information confuses the brain. If your material design includes “fluff” or off-topic content, your learners’ brains struggle to sort through it to find and understand the key points. Good design that focuses only on necessary information, and presents it correctly, alleviates extraneous cognitive load.

Cognitive Load Type 3: Germane
Active learning, called germane cognitive load, benefits learners. Active learning stimulates our brains to build mental models that help in understanding and recall. We want to design our infographics so they create germane cognitive load.

Neuroscience can help learning professionals better support our learners, even if we have only a basic understanding of certain key topics. When you marry a hot training trend (infographics) with truths about our anatomy (neuroscience), we can all design better infographics which will become more effective learning tools. 


Published by Katelind Hays October 4, 2016
Katelind Hays