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Making Learning Visual

Poster of word storm for "protagonist"

About a year and a half ago, I set an intention for myself to facilitate learning within groups and between groups. Suddenly all kinds of opportunities opened up to do just that—for clients, for community groups, for groups of individuals and even in my own family.

Some of these opportunities showed up in the Baha’i community where there is a veritable ocean of written guidance: books, letters, statements, study materials. The challenge I found myself facing was how to complement all this text-based learning and make things visual.

I’m no artist, so I started searching for tools and resources that would help. Here’s what I’ve learned so far…


One of the most valuable and empowering resources I’ve found is The Sketchnote Handbook, by Mike Rohde. It describes how you can use simple shapes:

To convey ideas:

a circle, square, triangle, line and dot

To convey ideas:

hand-drawn house, cup and VENN diagram

Wow. Even I can draw a square (or at least something that looks like a square). The idea is to get your point across, not to create fine art. It’s been so liberating! So now I’ve collected a large pad of poster paper, a set of colorful pens, post-it notes and painter’s tape—and I use them a lot.

Drawing Tools

I’ve also been discovering digital tools. The classic drawing tools are great: Visio, Paint, Google Drawings, etc. And now they’re even more useful, since I’ve discovered how much you can do with simple shapes.

There are also free online tools that have great templates and colorful elements (shapes & text) that you can combine in creative ways:

  • Piktochart – slide shows, infographics, charts, etc.

  • Canva – social media posts, post cards, reports, brochures, etc.

Each of these has its own style and both have more capabilities available in the paid version.


I’ve also found that a basic grounding in the principles of design is very helpful. Robin William’s book The Non-Designer’s Design Book is excellent. She (yes, she — not the actor) describes the principles of print design simply and clearly:

  • Contrast – how to vary the color, size, shape and font of different elements.

  • Repetition – how to repeat elements to create visual unity.

  • Alignment – how to align elements for visual connection.

  • Proximity – how to group similar elements together.

Visual Sources

Having a visual library is really valuable. The Sketchnote Handbook teaches you how to develop your own visual language—drawing shapes to represent ideas. There are also sources of images on the web that are free to use:

  • Unsplash – photographs that can be used for any purpose (just give credit to the photographer).

  • CC Search – a quick access to search services that link to Creative Commons content.

With any online resource, be sure to double-check the use and licensing policies. More and more resources are being offered with a Creative Commons license, of which there are several flavors. Make sure you understand which one is offered so you don’t violate any copyrights.


In thinking through a visual approach to learning, I’m finding that it’s important to answer some basic questions:

  • What is needed? What is the idea you’re trying to explore? Will this be an interactive activity or are you simply presenting information? What is the purpose you’re trying to achieve?

  • Who needs it? Who is your audience? What do they respond to? A business team expects professional PowerPoint presentations, but that slick look may be off-putting to a community group. What approach would work best for your group?

  • How do you deliver it? In some cases, drawing 3 circles on a poster is sufficient. In other cases, a slide show or a detailed graph is needed. Knowing your purpose and your audience, you’ll be able to determine the best delivery method.

What I’ve discovered is that imagery is a powerful tool for learning. People really value being able to interact with information visually. I realize there are other learning styles as well (auditory, kinesthetic, etc.). And though each of us tends to favor one of these modes, all of us benefit from these different ways of interacting with information. Every time we approach material from a different angle, we gain new insights.

I hope this is helpful. If you know of other tools for making learning visual, please share them in the comments. I’d love to hear your ideas.



Poster pad Markers Post-it Notes Painter’s tape

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