The Importance of Visual Literacy for a Changing Geography

The Importance of Visual Literacy for a Changing Geography by Anna de Jager

The University of South Africa (Unisa), is an open and distance learning institution in a developing country. Technological development provides a wide range of distance learning technologies as a means of addressing the educational needs of distance learning users. This paper reflects on the importance of visual literacy for instructional design, as well as for teaching and learning strategies used in the Department of Geography at Unisa. The reflection aims at creating new opportunities for the development of visual literacy. Visual literacy can be defined in different ways, emphasising the ability to interpret images meaningfully in order to understand visual messages, but it also has a dual function – a visually literate person can both receive and create appropriate visual messages. Visual literacy is not only a low level skill of decoding symbols or recognising particular images or well-known portraits, but also functions on a higher level of visual competencies to make sense of what is seen. Higher levels of visual literacy require critical thinking – especially where information is transferred through maps and charts. More research is needed with regard to the specific challenges and needs of learners in the online environment, in order to provide specific opportunities for improved visual literacy.