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Pictures – a start to creativity in training

By Robert Dennison

When you tell people what they need to know, they smile politely and forget. When they discover something for themselves, then they own the discovery and are more likely to remember and apply the learning.

Every day, we hear how companies do not want “chalk and talk” type training. In so many ways the idea of the trainer up-front and the learner passively absorbing information is dead. It may work in a tertiary education environment with highly capable and motivated students. It is probably not working in your business. This is why training ROI is getting such bad press. Putting people in an average classroom environment, with very average content, an average corporate trainer and a one directional flow of information produces only one exceptional result. An above average waste of money!

In the same way that advertisers use creativity to grab the attention of consumers; instructional designers, trainers and line managers need to use creativity to grab the attention of learners. Now more than ever, we need creativity in the training room. In fact maybe we do not even need the training room at all, we just need creativity in training.

Since it is not appropriate to start singing at work, we should probably start with visual and experiential creativity.

Somewhere between kindergarten and middle management we forget about using pictures and visual images to promote and support learning and understanding at work. Instead we opt for text – files of text, black on white, page after page.

Provocative Questions

— How thick is your Standard Operating Procedure Manual?

— What is the literacy level within your organisation?

— How many of your employees have English as a first language?

— Do you think that the average training course is engaging?

— What if words were banned and only pictures could be used from now on?

There are many reasons why pictures add such value to training. The list below is just for starters.

– For people to get ‘the BIG’ picture, you need to show it to them. If you can see what I can see, you will better understand why I do what I do.

– Pictures can provide an acceptable substitute for the real thing. If you cannot take a tour of an ideal factory, a tour of a visual representation is a close second.

– Pictures promote accelerated learning.

– Pictures are language independent.

– Attention to detail in pictures results in remarkably consistent interpretations.

– Pictures help people explain ‘stuff’ to each other.

– 80% of our brain is used to process visual input.

– The simplicity of pictures empowers learning.

If you are not yet convinced, think back to the days of DOS. This was before Mr Gates gave us the much-loved Graphical User Interface called Windows. Think of a share price movement over time – do you prefer the graph or the tables? What about an organisational chart: you can draw it or describe it long hand. What do people understand best?

If the objective is to engage learners and accelerate learning in corporate South Africa, we need to look at creative ways of doing so. What about games that accelerate learning, what about engineered heated debates, what about discovery and aha moments, what about experiential activities that invigorate learning. Metaphors, analogies, puzzles, models, the list could go on. Anything but an 80-page lever arch file full of text being drip-fed to learners while they are stuffed away in a pokey training room for 3 days.

Pictures provide an easy starting point for creativity in learning.

Robert Dennison heads up Trainiac, an organisation committed to the process of experiential and picture based learning. He can be contacted by e-mail on

One Comment, Comment or Ping

  1. Artemis Elias


    As the founding member of Trainiac, and having introduced Robert to training having failed as an entrepreneur previously and having generated millions of rands of business for him, it would be nice, if just once, he’d actually acknowledge this to people and in articles instead of taking all the accolades and claiming this company is his creation.

    Instead, he refuses to pay me commission he agreed to pay me, and when I tried to recover the funds, he stopped speaking to me. Despite successfully setting him up in business and making him the man he is today.

    Is this really the kind of person you wish to profile?

    I don’t doubt the business is great, after all, it’s my idea. I just want you to know that I am the woman behind Trainiac and that without me Robert’s Trainiac would never have been.

    Kind Regards


The Big Change is a business strategy blog and newsletter published by Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx, a leading technology research organisation based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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