15 Terms That Can Deepen Your Understanding of Literacy & Communication in an Image-Rich World

Online discourse is increasingly expressed through visuals. More than that, much of today’s ideas and concepts are communicated and shared through visuals. Yet, this remains an area that garners limited attention in schools. We use visuals, to be sure, but exploring the nature of communication and life in an image-rich world remains something that is underdeveloped in most learning organizations.

Tweets are increasingly accompanied with images. Pinterest and Instagram are increasingly “go to” sources of browsing for “information.” The presence of a featured image on an online article can make the difference between a couple dozen readers and it going viral. Political and ideological banter online is often an visual sword fight. Visual memes sometimes have far more influence than carefully considered and discussed ideas. As such, some contend that are living in a digitized version of the pre-modern world. Others prefer to describe it as sometimes entirely new.

This is not new to scholars and media experts. If you take time to explore the scholarly literature, you will discover valuable insights about this reality going back decades, and all of this has important implications for how we educate and equip people for life, learning, and literacy in a connected and image-rich age.

You can find many popular articles and “tips for teachers” about the role of visuals today, but many of them fail to represent the fascinating, deep, challenging, and incredibly useful insights that exist in the more scholarly literature. With a little curiosity and time, exploring some of the key phrases and discourses on this topic can offer both students and educators access to a treasure room of cognitive and communication tools for our modern age.

To test your knowledge (and hopefully to piqué your interest), consider the following 15 phrases, each of which represent an increasingly deep collection of research findings, theories, debates, ways of thinking about our image-rich world, and insights that can help inform how we equip people for discourse and communication in the digital age. Review the list below. How many of these terms can you define? What have you read and learned about each? If one of captures your interest, consider taking a few moments to explore and share what you discover with a friend or colleague. Let’s join in collectively deepening our understanding of what it means to be literate in a connected age and how to better equip ourselves and others for such a world.

  1. visual literacy
  2. media literacy
  3. digital literacy
  4. multimodal literacy
  5. new media
  6. new literacies
  7. new literacy studies (yes, a different discourse from new literacies in the literature)
  8. transmedia storytelling, migration, and navigation (and check out the concept of convergence culture while you are at it)
  9. media ecology
  10. multiliteracies
  11. visual semiotics
  12. visual rhetoric
  13. visual anthropology
  14. visual sociology
  15. media psychology