Designing with text and images

Prompt: What is different about developing instruction with both images and text combined? Is it more efficient? Do you think about how you instruct someone differently? Are there limitations? Benefits? If so, what are they?

This week with our project we combined our text instructions with our image instructions. I thought that this would be a simple matter of putting them both together; however, that wasn’t the case at all. It took me quite a while to determine the best method for presenting the combined text and images. In undertaking this project, I first had to think about what the learning goals and objectives are and then, I had to decide how best to convey them using both text and images together, not separately. I had to think about the layout, which images to use, how to rewrite the text in order for it to make sense with the images, and color choices. I wanted to make sure that I didn’t overwhelm my audience and cause confusion. I also wanted to make sure that my layout wasn’t cluttered and presented the information in a clear and logical manner.

When combining two forms of media, the instructional designer must make sure that the combined media don’t overload the learner (Daniels, 1996; Hede, 2002). If the learner is presented with too much stimuli, it can tax their working memory. When the working memory is overloaded, this causes the cognitive processing abilities to devote all of their efforts to sifting through the various stimuli (Daniels, 1996; Hede, 2002). What all this boils down to is that instead of the learner actually using the multimedia to learn the content, which is the point of instruction, they end up using all of their mental prowess to just make sense of the multimedia. They don’t actually learn anything because the multimedia is so overwhelming or confusing that all of their attention is devoted to the stimuli instead of the content.

On the other hand, with good instructional design combining two media, such as text and images, can actually increase learning and retention (Braden, 2004; Daniels, 1996). Research has shown that for many people combining text with supporting images helps people to comprehend and retain the information better than compared to using just one mode of instruction (Braden, 2004; Daniels, 1996). I think that this is because the combined multimedia help support additional learning styles. For some people, they learn best with pictures; whereas, with other learners verbal input is the best method (Hede, 2002). When you combine text with images, you are able to reach both learning styles at the same time. For visual learners the images help them make sense of the textual instructions and for verbal learners the textual instructions are highlighted by the placement of the images.

Source: Flickr/CC - Student studying

Source: Flickr/CC – Student studying

In my opinion, combining text and images to instruct learners is better than using either text or images alone and is also a multimedia method that is very familiar to learners. Consider textbooks as an example. Most textbooks use a combination of text and images to share information with students. The text explains a concept and the supporting images provide the reader with a visual depiction of the concept. As a student, I comprehend information better when I can both read it and see it, especially with abstract concepts. Having access to a graphical representation of a difficult concept that I can refer back to when reading about it helps me to fully grasp the “big picture.” Often times, when I am recalling information, the picture is what my long-term and working memory first recall and then, the corresponding text. Both play a part in helping me to learn.

Overall, using a combination of text and images versus using only text or only images makes more sense from an instructional design perspective. Although instructional designers can run the risk of overwhelming the learner using multiple media, if they keep in mind the design principles of contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity (Williams, 2008), they mitigate those risks. By combining text and images in instructional design, they provide content that has a higher chance of attracting learners and engaging them (Hede, 2002). The more learners are engaged the higher the odds are that they will actually learn the material.


Braden, R. A. (2004). Visual literacy. In D. H. Jonassen (Ed.), Handbook of research on educational communications and technology (2nd ed.). Mahwah, N. J.: Erlbaum.

Daniels, H. L. (1996). Interaction of cognitive style and learner control of presentation mode in a hypermedia environment. Retrieved from

Hede, A. (2002). An integrated model of multimedia effects on learning. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 11, 177-191.

Williams, R. (2008). The non-designer’s design book: Design and typographic principles for the visual novice (3rd ed.). Berkeley, CA: Peachpit Press.

Categories: CECS 5110 | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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