Whether you’re new to the Visionary Learning approach or a seasoned expert, it’s always useful to have a series of resources to be able to refer to or to point interested colleagues in the direction of. Below you’ll find information about the process involved in designing lectures using the VL approach, including information on finding and using images.

You can also download this entire toolkit as a PDF (520KB).

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Finding apposite images

We are looking for visual expressions of words and meaning, so we need to start with words.

Choose the text you want to express. You may be starting a new lecture from scratch or you may be converting an existing one built around slides with bullet-points. Either way, text needs dispersing to reduce overload of the audio-textual channel, and to free the slides for imagery. With an already-written lecture, I begin by breaking down each slide so there is only one line of text – without the bullet-point – per slide.

With a new lecture, it’s a personal quirk, but I sketch the outline on a large sheet of paper first, using arrows to show directions and links between whichever concepts, facts or other key points I identify. These elements represent the content and message of the lecture, designed around the Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs). Everyone does it differently. Some might call my method a storyboard.

Figure 1: One line animated text on formatted slide.

I then make black background slides with one line of animated random text in the centre (above), as a placeholder for the actual text. There’s a free, text-animated basic template available here for anyone who might want it. It is high contrast, so it will be readable in most lighting conditions; it avoids colours likely to challenge colour-blind students, it avoids frilly borders that distract attention and interrupt our messages, and it uses a clean, clear sans serif font less likely to be hard to read for most dyslexic students. I duplicate it 20 or so times using Control/Command-D, adding or subtracting to that number as the lecture requires. Note, there are no images yet. I then add the storyboard content to the slides, one line per slide. If I come up with more text than fits on 1 or 2 lines, I may reduce it or split the text over multiple slides. I now have the intellectual content and am ready to look for apposite images that convey visually, what I’m saying and writing on the slides. We need the words to generate the images.

I then mentally abbreviate the chosen text further. This is essential to locating an image. Too much text generates a jumble of images. The more concise the search phrase, the more accurate and relevant the returns are likely to be, so I reduce the text as far as meaningfully possible and type those words into Google’s AIS. To make it easier to begin with, ignore the copyright filter whilst you get the hang of it. You can tighten that up when you are more confident and quicker.

Let the images that appear when you press ‘enter’, guide you. I didn’t mean that to sound like Obi-wan Kenobi, but getting to the right image is rarely an immediate outcome.

Figure 2 Each search  result shifts your thinking about the right image

For instance, if I were looking for ways of visually illustrating ‘change’, I might select images that show, for example, a building’s foundation being laid, then the scaffolding going up, then the wiring, then the roof going on. It would be easy to find images that show that process, one by one. Staying with ‘change,’ I might want to illustrate a more conceptual process – like the shift from monarchical absolutism to parliamentary democracy as happening along a continuum, over time, a metamorphosis. This might produce more metaphorical images that convey the process of change in abstract form, with familiarity and ease. I can choose whether I want to use a more abstract or representative image.

Figure 3 metamorphosis and change

And if I don’t find what I’m looking for at all, I adjust the words I’m using.

Adjusting the search

I rarely find what I’m looking for on the first attempt. A failed search makes me change the words I’m using, perhaps slightly, perhaps more so, but without losing essential meaning. There are various ways we can express the same point, multiple ways of saying things. Adjusting what we are saying whilst adhering to its meaning expands the range of images we find, providing more opportunities. This can sometimes take us off-course so we need to check that whatever image we find, is still close to the meaning we want to convey.

Sometimes, I find an image that is close to what I want but inadequate. My mind automatically deciphers why the image I have found is close but not right. It may be lacking, or possess, an element that obscures or oversimplifies the meaning I want to communicate. It may be inappropriate.  It may say exactly what I want but appear childish or unprofessional. So I adjust the search text with that in mind. In a sense, I am tuning my search, rejecting initial finds and then adjusting the search parameters to eliminate from that search, whatever doesn’t work. In this way, I either find the image I want to use, or I stop looking if nothing appears in a reasonable time.

Step-by-step recap

  1. Create storyboard of lecture
  2. Write one-liner (or 10-20-word message) for each slide.
  3. Distil essence of point in words and search AIS
  4. Select an image that expresses the message.
  5. Adjust words as image discovery takes you.


There are some principles I stay with that help ensure fidelity. These are:

  • Each image must be apposite. Using images that convey something other than what you want your students to underhand is counter-productive, as are university logos and marketing symbols.
  • An image is normally accompanied by one or two lines (maximum, or the text obscures the image which is wholly counterproductive).
  • Each image should be neither overly complex nor overly simple. In the case of the latter, too much may overwhelm and confuse an audience unless the lecturer keeps it visible long enough to be worked through. In the case of the former, the image’s value may be reduced. This said, I know one colleague who speaks for 2 hours and shows 4 images in that time, keeping each one in place for half an hour. Participants say they are held by the images – they’re just pictures of places and people – and become ‘in’ the place my colleague is talking about. There’s no magic trick in this: the image’s space frees the audience to hear whilst visually connecting to the oration.
  • The oration needs to draw attention to the relevant metaphors, elements or symbols in the image. I talk through the elements and/or meaning of the image so my students are seeing it as I want them to, and to avoid interpretation that doesn’t match the intended learning outcomes and the objectives of the lecture. I am directing them through imagery just as I would direct them through my choice of text.
  • Don’t use lots of images unless you’re confident and happy with that. You’re not looking to fill every slide with an image – you only need to introduce a few to start with. By dispersing text, you’ve already reduced the harm of cognitive overload (or ‘Death by PowerPoint’). Images now are a bonus. It only takes a few, when combined with the reduction in text, to increase student engagement. If your point is about transformation in architecture over the last 200 years, you can either show a variety of forms of architecture of you can show an image that means transformation.
  • It’s helpful sometimes to remember, especially if there’s frustration at time spent and a lack of images appearing, that to begin with, you don’t even have to add imagery. The act of dispersing text across slides allows for smoother absorption of our material and less disengagement from overload. You should be left with more slides with less text and more space for images, and you have the basis of the image search in each line of text. This is my template. Choose which slides you’d like to represent with images. You may get a sense of the likelihood of whether you will find a visual representation – but you may also be surprised.