Dave Meier’s classic handbook “Accelerated Learning” has a chapter on Pictograms and is a good guide to using images for learning.

“Throughout recorded history, picture language was used extensively for human communication. With few exceptions, all ancient civilisations used and valued icons, symbols and images.

“However, the invention of the printing press in the 1440s changed all that. Pictures and images were difficult and time-consuming to produce on that first printing press. Words were easy. And so in the West, words were thus elevated over images as the standard for communication and education. Where alphabet literacy increased, the use of images decreased.

“The turn toward words and away from images supported a left-brain emphasis in Western culture, since the left-brain is dominant in the processing of words, and the right brain is dominant in the processing of images. Today, however, as we strive for a whole-brain approach to life and learning, both words and images are needed. Hence Pictograms. Pictograms simply combine images with words in endless variety.

“Accelerated Learning, which emphasises whole-brain, whole-body processing, encourages the use of pictograms of all kinds in a variety of forms for speeding and enhancing learning and human information processing.”

Meier then gives some examples of how you might use images and pictograms in education and training. He cites curriculum design, where you might get ideas down quickly in image form and see their relationships, such as in course-mapping (like mind-mapping with Tony Buzan), room peripherals (posters, murals, wall-hangings, floor displays), note taking in pictogram form with coloured pens, capturing the essence of an experience or assignment in pictogram form, presentation aids, learning reviews, knowledge assessment, job aids, manual-making, project reports, brainstorming and in meetings.

In fact where we normally use words, we might consider also using images!

He cites evidence that this kind of combining visuals with all aspects of the course material may speed up and enhance learning.

So now we know that the brain likes pictures, stories and music, and that integrating these methods in our learning and development practices will provide a richer and more lasting experience for our clients, whether they are children or adults!

Is this not the holy grail of all education and therapy, and of all personal and professional development?

On reflection, a lot of what we are hearing from neuroscientists sounds a lot like ancient wisdom and clear-cut common sense! And tends to back up the best practice of enterprising and committed education professionals who have always aimed at the formation of the whole person when designing and delivering learning experiences. It is becoming clearer, as I reflect, that all of these factors working in a holistic combination are what make the difference as we seek to embed learning experiences,  empower the individual, and embody positive changes for life.

However, there is one element which is never discussed in education, but in counselling and psychotherapy it is universally recognised as absolutely key – more important than the approach, the mistakes, the setting, the room layout, the size of the group or anything else.

The person of the facilitator – your integrity, trustworthiness, self-awareness, tone of voice, presence, demeanour, and goodwill. Particularly as these are perceived by the client. There is near-universal recognition that this is the make-or-break element in all therapy, that you are the instrument through which therapeutic change happens. And that if you are found wanting in these most subtle elements, therapeutic change won’t happen. There is something in this for teachers and managers, but we haven’t even begun to address it in any approach I have seen.

In John Whitmore’s “Coaching for Performance“, which is psychosynthesis-based, we have a tool and approach which will address this key element skilfully and in balance with the other priorities. It’s a subtle, unconscious mechanism but getting it right can lead to profound and lasting self-development.

These realisations inform my current work in Natural Pathways – using ancient wisdom to make us whole in the present day. Have a look at the Natural Pathways page for a fuller exposition of these ideas. And come on one of our workshops! Help us to craft this new and very ancient way of working!