“In Other Words” – How Images Achieve More Than Teachers Realize

Over a period of five days, I’ve been blogging about the research and history behind the idea of teaching with pictures. It’s actually quite fascinating, and sets up our release of three Habitudes® resources this month. Below is some newly released research that reveals how art—or images—actually foster skills and qualities that most educators are longing to see in students today:

  • Empathy
  • Critical thinking
  • Student Engagement


Images Deepen Engagement

A team of social scientists at the University of Arkansas has drawn the same conclusion we have about the impact of images. In 2013, they attempted to demonstrate the benefits of students’ exposure to art. Their findings, published in the journals Education Next and Educational Researcher, are that students who are exposed to cultural institutions, like museums and performing arts centers, not only have higher levels of engagement through art but display greater tolerance toward others, historical empathy as well as better educational memory and critical thinking skills. “The changes were measurable and significant,” reported Jay P. Greene, professor of education reform and a researcher on the study. Just one museum tour was found to make “a definite impression on students.” According to Greene, students on this tour retained what they’d learned “even without an external reason for doing so, like a grade on a test.”

Green’s team was surprised by how much “academic” information the test group had learned and remembered through the art, when compared to a control group. Students were able to recall that one painting dealt with price supports during the Great Depression and another depicted abolitionists boycotting sugar. “These historical details were not standard in the curator’s introduction,” Greene explains, which means the discussion-based format compelled the students to ask both important and relevant questions about the art. But something about the museum also enabled students to remember this information nearly a month later. That’s remarkable, considering how quickly most kids forget knowledge learned for tests. Further, when it came to analyzing a new, unfamiliar painting, Greene reports there’s “a big increase in how observant students were if the went to an art museum, as opposed to students in a control group who did not attend. They were much better at seeing details in new paintings than those who did not go.” They were also better at relating the painting to their own experience, identifying subtext in the art and allowing multiple interpretations of the art. Finally, they were able to empathize with the people and scenes in a way the control group did not. This clearly suggests that experiencing art (images) engages students better. The conclusions of the study are that experiences with art deepened empathy for others, engagement in learning and critical thinking skills. Not a bad return on investment.

Today’s EPIC Generation


In our work with more than 7,000 schools, universities and organizations, we have confirmed what futurist Dr. Leonard Sweet identified as an “EPIC” generation of students. Having grown up in a technology-abundant world, he believes this emerging generation requires focused activity and visual stimulation. I believe his insights are truer now more than ever. Check out the chart below to see how Dr. Sweet breaks down this “EPIC” generation:

E – Experiential
I want more than a lecture. I want an experience that provokes and incentivizes me. P – Participatory
I want to participate in the outcomes of the program. I want to upload my thoughts. I – Image-rich
I want a picture to engage me, help me explore new perspectives and retain ideas). C – Connected
I want to interact with others socially on the issue in person and through technology).

Because our organization Growing Leaders has observed this to be true, I knew we had to act. We didn’t see schools or companies utilizing imagery, conversations or experiences to their full potential. In response, we were prompted to create the Habitudes® resources. (Habitudes are images that form leadership habits and attitudes.) After years of work in student development, we designed an instrument based upon images and social connection. Each chapter of these books provides a unique, memorable image that’s coupled with stories, questions, a self-assessment and an exercise in which students can participate. We’ve put the training on ICE, meaning we use Images to spark Conversations, which lead to Experiences that can change lives. We believe we’ve found a “sticky” way to inform this next generation on their leadership journey.

This month, we are releasing three Habitudes resources:

My challenge for every employer, educator, parent, coach or youth worker is to re-think traditional methods for communicating. It’s time we progressed from living merely in the Gutenberg world (text on a page) to the Google world (images on a screen). We must shift the focus from merely informing the left-hemisphere of their brains to engaging them entirely, which opens up a new world of growth. In doing so, you will invite imagination, engagement and passion in your listeners.

Three New Habitudes Resources

hb-icons-book1 new hb-icons-hb4dvd new hb-icons-ahb new

"In Other Words" – How Images Achieve More Than Teachers Realize