Sight Mammals

The February issue of T+D magazine arrived in the mail this afternoon. I have to admit that I beamed with pride on finding this first in the list of features:

    Sight Mammals
    By Jay Cross
    People learn from words and pictures as well as--or better than--from just words. Here's how to create drawings, graphics, or other visuals to enhance your own or your audiences's absorption of information.

Executive Summary / Free PDF

You see*, I believe that over-reliance on the alphabet impedes our understanding of how things work, and that favoring graphics over text can make the world a better place to live. Words are just words. Visuals are often a better approximation of reality.


"This is not a pipe." (It's a picture of a pipe.)

Of course, you've heard my rant on this if you've visited the Center for Visual Learning here at Internet Time.



A year ago, the topic of visual learning grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me to the core. Having proposed visual learning as the focus of the April 2002 meeting of the eLearning Forum, I set out to get my arms around the subject.

Sherrin Bennett, who had recorded, or rather interpreted visually, our eLearning Forum sessions for the previous year, helped me understand the potential of the field. When I met David Sibbet, founder of The Grove Consultants and more or less the inventor of group graphics, Sherrin coincidentally was in the next room. David is an inspiration -- I'd appreciated his work before but hadn't recognized it as his.

Word of the eLearning Forum session led to meetings with Bob Horn, inventor of Information Mapping and author of Visual Language. Among other things, Bob conceptualized how the web would work before Tim Berners-Lee got his first job. Wow! Yet another luminary.

To round out the eLearning Forum event, Dave Gray, the founder of Xplanations (you've seen their work in Business 2.0 and other places), flew in from St. Louis and linked graphic presentation to business performance.

A few days before the eLearning Forum meeting, I wanted to document all the things I'd been learning. ("Can you see what I see?") I wrote a piece called Envisioning eLearning.

eLearning Magazine liked the first half of what I'd written, and it become the Guest Editorial in the November issue. T+D was more interested in the meta-skills and broader implications; Sight Mammals is drawn from the second half of my original story. By the way, I didn't dream up the title Sight Mammals, T+D did, but I love it!


    Executive Summary: Sight Mammals

    Humans are sight mammals, proposes e-learning guru Jay Cross. They learn almost twice as well from images and words as from words alone. Visuals engage both hemispheres of the human brain. Pictures translate across cultures, education levels, and age groups. Yet, most content of corporate learning is text. Schools spend years teaching how to read but only hours on visual literacy. It’s high time for us to open our eyes to the possibilities, Cross asserts.

    Visual literacy—whether on paper or electronic—accelerates learning because the richness of the whole picture can be taken in at a glance. Visual metaphors unleash new ideas and spark innovation. Having a sharper eye increases the depth of one’s perception. Rather than walk you through the nuances of color, tone, texture, proportion, and so forth, Cross shares several ways that visuals have contributed to his own learning.

    People can create pictures as well as look at them. Cross often draws mind maps to brainstorm on his own and to clarify his thinking. He also assembles simple pictures to convey concepts, using PaintShop Pro. The article shows approaches to using visuals that you can adapt.





Double entendre intended.


Posted by Jay Cross at February 6, 2003 07:53 PM | TrackBack
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