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E-learning and the Power of Images


The growth of e-learning has been driven by the demand for faster and effective learning processes. Although many organisations use these technologies and processes for learning, do they really accelerate the learning process? Keith Bound explains his research journey into using imagery and technology to accelerate learning.

Most learning is focused on linguistics such as the written word and language, while other forms of learning communication tend to become secondary or additional. So has the drive for easy access to knowledge and increasing the pace of how we obtain information through modern technology clouded our vision of creating an enriching, creative and fulfilling learning process that is fast and effective?

Over the last three years Image Dynamicsª has been researching and testing new methods to create a paradigm shift in the learning experience by engaging the user at a deep emotional level through reflection, using a combination of imagery, empathic questions and animation sequences. Research supports our theory that imagery should play a crucial role in accelerated learning technologies today and in the future.

Emotional impact
Let us start with the core aspect of learning, retaining information and a study of the emotional impact of images and their connection to long term memory. Dr Stephen Hamann and colleagues at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia presented male volunteers with a series of images using the following criteria, emotionally charged pleasant and unpleasant images; interesting images with little emotional impact and the final group of images which were deemed as uninteresting neutral images.

While subjects viewed each image the researchers recorded their brain activity through positron emission tomography (PET). As expected the most emotionally charged images, pleasant or unpleasant were equal in their effects and both had the highest levels of amygdale activity with long term memory recognition being substantially enhanced. The PET scans also recorded high levels of activity in the hippocampus when subjects were shown emotionally charged images.

Based on this evidence we argue that by applying imagery to a learning process we can reinforce learning at an emotional level. Another interesting study was done by Mark Sadoski who has investigated the relationship between mental and induced imagery and the powerful impact on comprehension, memory and appreciation of text. The studies sited demonstrated that learning and memory performance improved when applying imagery in reading tests.

For example Pressley (1976) gave one group of third grade children a mental imagery strategy to help them remember stories and were shown slides depicting good examples of images for the passages. The other group did not see the slide show and were told to do whatever they could do to remember the story. Both groups read a 950 word story with alternating printed and blank pages. The imagery group was reminded at regular intervals to form images on the blank pages while the other group were told to do whatever they could do to remember when they saw the blank pages. Although there was no difference in the reading performance on a 24 item short answer test, the imagery group outperformed the control group. Sadoski sighted other studies from Gambreel 1982, Anderson and Kulavy 1972, Steingart and Glock 1979, Gambell and Bales 1986 and Gambell and Jawitz 1993 who all found students learning and memory performance improved through the use of induced imagery when reading text.

Therefore, these studies seem to suggest that imagery can play an important role in the process of learning & development for all age groups as an effective process for storing fresh memories, accelerating the learning and maintaining long term retention of information. So from these studies we know that we can create a more effective learning experience through using imagery but what about learning styles. It has been argued that a presenter, trainer or teacher should apply a combination of visual, auditory and kinaesthetic styles to ensure they appeal to everyone's learn style. Although everyone has one preferred learning or communication style research suggests that the visual sense becomes the most dominant sense when in conflict with our other senses.

Close you eyes
This is not surprising when you consider that most of the back of the brain is devoted to visual processing and half of the cortex is involved in sight. By just closing our eyes we can alter the way in which we taste food or hear sounds like the voice of a ventriloquist. In fact our visual sense can deceive us if there is a conflict with clues from another sense which was well demonstrated by James Gibson in the late 1930's. He gave a subject a straight metal rod and asked him to feel it with his eyes closed. He feels the rod is straight; then the rod is taken away then is asked to open his eyes and look down at the rod. Unknown to him the rod has a wedge prism which distorts the shape of the rod so that the rod now appears to be curved rather than straight. Not surprisingly when the subject looked down at the rod he saw a curved rod but what was surprising when he touched the rod at the same time he felt the rod was curved and reported nothing usual or rivalry between the senses. This brief example demonstrates that visual stimulating learning programmes may provide a very powerful learning process.

Another important aspect to improved learning performance is to create an effective learning environment. Through medical research guided imagery can have a positive impact on reducing stress, anxiety, pain and blood pressure. Therefore it is likely that using imagery in a learning process will encourage a more relaxed atmosphere encouraging a receptive approach to learning.

Image Dynamics has approached the development of new learning technologies through research on imagery, visual processing and feedback from delegates who have been exposed to our animation techniques in corporate training. We first experimented with clients who wanted a more effective process for breaking through self-limiting beliefs. By allowing the client to reflect on an image and relate it to their situation they were able to develop new solutions - it seemed to trigger their imagination and kick start the creative process.

The next stage was to link questions with images. I found that by using an image as a background with a question on top, it reinforced the meaning of the question and the images allowed the client to explore their imagination and develop new solutions much more easily than if I was just using questioning techniques. After using card based systems with success we decided to project powerful and interesting imagery with empathic questions and keywords through a variety of animation sequences. We found that when delegates viewed the animations they were able to develop clarity of focus and create a mindset shift, encouraging them to look at a business challenge from a fresh perspective.

Based on our experience we believe that delegates maybe able to change their mindset due to the effects of the imagery and animation through possible changes in electroencephalogram waveforms. When we are awake, active, even stressed we experience the Beta wave which is12 Hz+. However as we relax and drift into the first stages of sleep, the cycle per second activity of the brain slows down to Alpha - the second level of sleep is the Theta rhythm (4-8Hz). Although both Alpha and Theta mind states can be accessed through, meditation, hypnosis or through self-reflection, it is interesting to note that children under 13 years naturally experience the Theta rhythm when they are wide awake. Based on this evidence the Image Dynamics process could also accelerate the learning process in the classroom reinforcing learning outputs in the long term memory.

The animation sequences can also be linked to music therefore combining common learning styles Visual, Auditory and Kinaesthetic. The process also integrates well with the key concepts of accelerated learning from creating an effective learning environment and state setting, while the academic studies in imagery and memory demonstrate an effective method of remembering information. Over stimulation is another benefit and can be controlled through the speed, quantity of images, questions and keywords. While the animation sequences can be adapted to suit pattern spotting, learning in broad strokes and chunking, as each animation lasts between 30 seconds to five minutes long. The animation programmes even cut across the theory of multiple intelligences, impacting the following categories of intelligence interpersonal (social interaction), interpersonal (self-reflection), linguistic (words), spatial (images), music and logic due to delegates analysing their journalised thoughts after viewing the animation sequences.

We now have developed the process into miniature learning modules called Nano-Learnerª which can be tailor-made to a specific training programme or coaching methodology. Interest from corporations has been to integrate the process into miniaturised modules for e-learning, personal leadership growth, effective goal setting, developing creativity and problem-solving skills. We also believe this process would also be very effective in education making courses more interesting to children and students. The miniaturised modules would also be ideal as a learning aid for revision.

The process has been described "as a unique sensory and learning experience" by Dr. Mike Bagshaw, an organisational psychologist and director of Trans4mation Ltd who has designed leadership programmes for clients including Bank of Scotland, HSBC, Pfizer, QinetiQ, Shell, he added. "This is a revolutionary innovative perspective in organisational learning which will add a new dimension to e-learning globally. Overall the process reflects a unique orientation and contribution to learning & development.”


  • Sadoski, Mark Mental Imagery in Reading: A Sample of Some Significant Studies, Department of EDCI, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 777843-4232, USA, Source: Reading Online,

  • Hamann Stephen, Dr Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia
    Source: Nature Neuroscience 1999;2:289-293

  • Vilayanur S. Ramachandran and Diane Rogers- Ramachandran University of California, San Diego
    Source: Scientific Amercian Mind Vol 17, number 2, April/May 2006

  • Tusek, Diane, R.N., B.S.N. Cleveland Clinic Foundation Study of Cardiac surgery patients
    Source: Cath-Lab Digest: May 1999, Vol 7, Number 5.
  • Explore the nano-learning approach at


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