What Learning Looks Like

Pictures Work.

When I took on the Google Chrome comic, one of the lures of the job was a chance to use a bully pulpit to show how simple pictures could make complex ideas understandable and memorable. My medium was comics of course—and comics have some unique advantages in this regard—but others have been doing impressive work in animation along the same lines (this, for example).

The trick in either comics or animation is to embody your ideas rather than sugarcoat them; to make plain, through images, the patterns and concepts you see clearly in your head, secure in the knowledge that even the most byzantine, advanced, jargon-laced topic probably rests on a few fat visual metaphors almost anyone can grok with a little explanation.

Treading a middle ground between static and moving images is this 10-minute video featuring Jeremy Rifkin and drawn/animated by the smart folks at Cognitive Media* for The RSA. It’s a joy to watch and it made me wonder how much better the learning experience in school settings could be if they incorporated even a fraction of the enthusiasm and visual lucidity on display here (albeit, sped up to a superhuman degree).

More videos in the RSAanimate series can be found here.

I don’t use the word “revolutionary” lightly—well, okay, maybe I do—but the trend toward visualizing information in education (in combination with a growth in visual literacy) is a genuine opportunity for a revolution we desperately need.

*Thanks to Austin in the comments thread for identifying Cognitive and dropping them a line. It turns out that I’ve actually met Cognitive’s Andrew Park, when he sat in on my workshop at MCAD a few years back. Small world!

[And thanks to Jared Finkelstein for first pointing out the video]

Discussion (18)¬

  1. roodieboodie says:

    Wow, that video is so many kinds of good.

  2. Oling says:


    I read a couple of books about this topic and this video is just great.

  3. Ffree says:

    I love both the presentation and the content. I love even more the effect of communicating understanding through this technique.

  4. Austin Kleon says:

    Hey Scott,

    Looks like the scriber from that video was from Cognitive Media in the UK. Here’s their website:


    – Austin

    • Scott says:

      Thanks, Austin.

      I’m guessing there’s a single artist guiding the project at Cognitive. It seems to have a fairly consistent style.

      Maybe someone from Cognitive will find us and offer us a name or two. Would love to give full credit where it’s due.

  5. Raymond Ricketts says:

    Great video, but you didn’t have to lump all “Enlightenment philosophers” together for derailing our recognition of the empathetic impulse. Hume and Adam Smith, for example, were big proponents of empathy (which they called “sympathy”) as a basic human quality. The first chapter of Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments lays this out nicely.

    • Scott says:

      Just checking, but you know that was Jeremy Rifkin talking and Cognitive Media animating, not me, right?

      • Raymond Ricketts says:

        Yes–I was using “you” in a general sense; you can tell Jeremy haha. I want to stress what a great link this is (despite my carp) and how essential your book is for teaching!

  6. Anne Wood says:

    Friggin’ fantastic!! I’m always hungry to see this medium used to explain non-fiction concepts — thank you!!!

  7. tigertail777 says:

    That was awesome. My mind is boggling how they synched up the sound and drawings. Is it done like animation with storyboards to guide it, does the artist read it in chunks and draw it a bit at a time and then filmed that way or what? How the heck would you synch this up so the drawing and audio mesh so perfectly?

  8. Phillip says:

    As an Education major, your piece for Chrome is probably what most got me into comics (and is a solid reason why I’m posting this from Chrome). There is so much to be gained from exploring how different mediums help different people learn different things; the recent hubbub about learning styles (visual vs auditory, etc) is a testament to that. Comics in particular can use the attention, as schools use pictures, they use words (oh lord, do they use words), and they use lectures, yet not many classes make use of comics, which so easily and simply combine pictures, nonfiction exposition, and narration.

    Perhaps an exaggeration, but relevant:
    “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” – Einstein

  9. […] potente, mediato eppure immediato, suggestivo eppure chiaramente comunicativo. Come dice il buon Scott McCloud: Quando ho lavorato al fumetto per Google Chrome, uno dei richiami che mi hanno attratto di più […]

  10. […] was also delighted to have the work appear on Scott McCloud’s blog. Scott is a artistic hero of mine and his book ‘Understanding Comics’ has and continues […]

  11. Blake says:

    so beautiful. Refreshing to see a positive outlook on human nature.

  12. tensaimon says:

    great video – I was so entranced I was late picking my baby up from daycare. And like tigertail777 I spent most of the evening wondering how they linked it up so perfectly.

    Here in Japan there is a great deal of use of comics for non-fiction educational purposes – Doraemon narrates books about world history for elementary school students, but comics are also used for adults – my wife has a inch-thick comic book explaining real estate laws in preparation for a national real-estate exam. I’ve read some bits of it and the images and narration made the somewhat complicated japanese law points really easy to understand even by me.

    I’m (very slowly) working on a non-fiction explanatory comic, at points I’ve wondered if I won’t be wasting my time with all that sketching when I could more easily explain it by typing – this post reassures me that the extra effort of sketching will pay dividends in the digestibility(?) of the message.

    Of course, UC and MC are key books that showed me the potential of comics for explanation.

  13. Have you seen the Scribd in HTML5 comic (…I’m just going to go ahead and refer to it is a comic)? I saw it the other day and, my first thought was that there was no way that it could have not been inspired by the Chrome comic.