Visual Literacy Resources & Toolkit


There is a problem that exists in the field of higher education, in which there is a disparity in visual literacy skills between millennial learners and their educators. Visual literacy is the ability to understand and produce visual messages (Bleed, 2005). Educators responsible for teaching millennial learners do not possess the same visual literacy skillset as the younger generation. Despite requisite academic skills, visual literacy remains an area of education largely ignored in pre-service teacher preparation and professional development (Comer, Troutman, & Vasquez, 2010).  This problem affects learners who do not benefit from graphics that would be ideally suited to the learning objectives. The problem also affects educators, who face a disconnect when trying to communicate information to learners in a highly visual manner. A possible cause for this problem is that visual literacy skills are often considered trivial, transitory, and non-academic, often taught only in specialized courses and disciplines (Bleed, 2005).

Elkins suggested that visual literacy skills include an understanding of how people perceive graphics and imagery; interpret what they see, and what they will learn from them (as cited in Challons-Lipton & Emanuel, 2013). Although a new generation of learner exists, educational institutions have not yet adjusted to this change. New learners, constantly evolving technologies and workforce skills, and new modes of creative expression are driving the need for visual literacy skills, which will become a prerequisite skill as visual media are integral to how we work, communicate, and educate (Bleed, 2005). This problem is likely to continue without intervention, as the integral use of technology will continue to influence visual literacy skills in coming generations. The majority of academics are hired on the basis of academic qualifications and research experience, with less emphasis placed on formal higher education teaching experience. Most begin by teaching how they were taught, or by experimenting with a variety of different teaching methods, merging how they prefer to learn with approaches that they found effective in their own higher education experience. As a result, bad habits often remain uncorrected, especially in the use of visual material, which tends to be considered an appendage to a lecture, even used to take the focus off the speaker (Albertson, 2010). This project examines the visual needs of the next generation of learners, and the gap that exists between those needs and current academic practice.


Brian Kennedy, director of the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College speaks about the necessity for visual literacy. "Visual literacy is the ability to construct meaning from images. It's not a skill. It uses skills as a toolbox. It's a form of critical thinking that enhances your intellectual capacity."

Don Levy, a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, speaks on the topics of innovation, digital creativity, visual communications and visual effects. "I'm beginning to question what it really means to be literate today, and, if we pay enough attention to the idea of visual literacy."