A study supports graphics in learning

A new study compared learning outcomes of traditional textbooks to graphic novels. The graphic novels had better retention.


There is probably some correlation to using same approach in e-learning.

11 Replies
Steve Flowers

A friend of mine just completed a study comparing the aesthetics of a program with the effectiveness. In this case it was a simulator for ship docking. He compiled a heap of data to support his dissertation. I don't think he's published it yet.  The simulation was offered to control groups with separate visual modes. One with an attractive visual composition, the other with a much less attractive composition.

I believe his data indicated that aesthetics affected repetition of the simulation, which affected performance over time. But did not affect initial performance. Makes sense, in a way. Something that's more attractive will bring folks back more often than something that's not. 

There are lots of facets to engagement with experiences. Effectiveness over time is one, which I think the study posted above hits. Seductiveness / gravity to bring folks back to the experience is another. Complex stuff

If I can find his study, I'll post it here. 

Steve Flowers

Side-note for folks that aren't familiar with the body of research, there are lots of studies available going back decades that graphics *can* help learning. Take a look at this dated article from Ruth Colvin Clark: 


A few studies and articles referencing studies are listed in the sidebar on the last page. I know the study Cary references concerns a very specific type of comparison - this is probably a really useful addition to the body of knowledge already available

David Anderson

Here's a slightly different take on aesthetics: In Defense of Eye Candy 

The focus is more on perception and credibility, but there's still a lot of good ideas for course designers.

The gas station example is a classic example of how we perceive trustworthiness in products... and possibly our course designs.

Chris Clark

I've found that vivid graphics help a learner 'feel' like they are becoming engaged in the learning because it helps them relate directly to past experience and influences their perception of the content they are about to be given. Much like with the example of the gas pumps, the quality and style of visual elements play a great role in peoples' receptiveness to things that they must invest in.

Of course, there's always the saying, "you can't polish a turd," which lends to the fact that no matter how glamorous a course/learning materials can be made to appear, appearance will never be able to compensate for a lack of quality content. Even when used as a focal point of, or inspiration for, instruction, it's important to remember that graphics are a supplement to learning - not the defining element.

Nevertheless, it's great to read studies such as the ones addressed in this thread and to see the reactions of fellow learning designers/providers.