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Sunni Brown

Author, Chief Infodoodler, sunnibrown.com

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Why is visual literacy discouraged in most cultures & WHAT CAN WE DO to change that?

This LIVE CONVERSATION will open at 1PM ET/ 10AM PT on Monday, October 31th! Join me!

Visual literacy, if described as the ability to communicate via doodling, drawing, and sketching or described as the ability to display complex information in visual language formats, is often a literacy missing in adults despite it being a universal and natural inclination in children. Why does it disappear? And more importantly, what can we do to alter this course?

**ADMIN UPDATE: Sunni Brown has asked to extend her Conversation for two weeks. She will be jumping in to catch up with responses over the next two weeks. Happy posting everyone!

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    Oct 31 2011: I didn't know visual literacy was discouraged.

    Assuming it is, we can simply teach it and nurture it; it is a natural way to learn and to communicate.

    Tony Buzan's "mind mapping" is quite literally based on visual literacy.

    The graphic novels and comics, again are literally based on visual literacy.

    I use a form of mind mapping that is even more visual than Buzan's; mine is 90% visual with some labels. I use it if I want to remember something new I am learning.

    Whiteboards, PowerPoint, iPads, and lots of other stuff use visual elements; the graphical interface is ubiquitous.

    Movies and TV are visual and follow a unique "syntax" that is easy to learn and follow (an extreme close up of a wheel on a fast moving stagecoach foreshadows its imminent detachment from the coach, etc.)

    Chinese characters are "visual." Maybe we should teach everyone how to write in Chinese (a pretty good idea for lots of reasons!)
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      Oct 31 2011: Sadly, Thomas, yes, visual literacy in many schools in the U.S. and around the world is actively discouraged. I've received hundreds of stories of adults describing their tendencies to approach content visually that was either "frowned upon" or, in many cases, actively stifled. There are very few learning or working environments that even understand the value and application of visual language, much less advocate it. It is much more common to discourage the practice. The behavior pattern seems to be that when individuals are seen using visual language (doodling, sketching or drawing), they're either made fun of, asked to focus on the topic at hand, chastised or scolded publicly, or even punished. It borders on lunacy, quite frankly, and it happens all the time.
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        Oct 31 2011: I am more optimistic. I agree that visual literacy was certainly not encouraged in schools thirty years ago, but my (anecdotal) experience today with kids in US schools is that there IS in fact a lot of emphasis on visual literacy. Thankfully! And I have seen positive benefits of that in subjects as diverse as math, history and even language.

        Perhaps it is a good idea to reach out to companies and businesses who are directly or indirectly in the "visual literacy" business - and co-opt them to help promote this movement.
        Keep up the good work!
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        Oct 31 2011: QUOTE: "Sadly, Thomas, yes, visual literacy in many schools in the U.S. and around the world is actively discouraged. ... It is much more common to discourage the practice. The behavior pattern seems to be that when individuals are seen using visual language (doodling, sketching or drawing), they're either made fun of, asked to focus on the topic at hand, chastised or scolded publicly, or even punished. It borders on lunacy, quite frankly, and it happens all the time."

        I doodled my way through school. And it was not discouraged. Mind you, I grew up in Canada and it was a long, long time ago.

        I am not aware of any concerted efforts being made to discourage visual literacy but then I have not made it a focus of interest either.

        Naturally, you see this as an issue that needs to be brought into the public's awareness; and you seem to be doing a good job of that.

        If it is being discouraged, then simply talking about the benefits of visual literacy will help.

        But talking about it the "right way" will get better results: For example promoting it as a value, suggesting that "everyone" is doing it and so on will yield a more positive outcome than pointing out "most cultures" discourage it. (It's called "social proof" and has a powerful impact on collective behaviour - "we" are more likely to do what "others" are doing; whether it makes sense or not.)

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