Images as metaphors. How to convey abstract concepts with images.


As we commented previously, “an image is worth a thousand words” and using them can help convey items that reinforce knowledge and make your courses more noteworthy, impacting and educational.

You are probably asking: What abstract concepts do I want to convey, and, how do I do it with images? If you are not familiar with photography or design, this can be vague and difficult, but these basic ideas will help you master that immediately. Here we go.


Metaphors: What are they, and why are they useful?

In summary, a metaphor identifies two similar concepts where one is literal and the other representative. For example, Don Quijote de la Mancha, when referring to Dulcinea, said that “her hair was made of gold”. In this case, literally, gold is a property (shiny and golden) of the representative term (Dulcinea’s hair) which are mirrored.

Metaphors are very useful for learning complex or unknown concepts as we relate them to other concepts we already know. They achieve a higher level of comprehension. Following the same example, it is more effective and powerful to say “her hair was made of gold” than “her hair was blond and very shiny” as we all have an idea of what gold is, its color and how it shines. Metaphors help us understand unknown concepts faster and in an easier way.


Visual metaphors and their style

Visual metaphors convert the literal or known concept in a visual image. The audience has to interpret what the image is trying to convey. This can be very useful for e-learning courses. It demands that students decode, remember and interpret, interact with terms and apply their own knowledge. For example, try to decode each of these images:

Did each convey a totally different concept about love? Now you understand the power of visual metaphors!

How do I choose images with metaphors?

Follow these steps to use images as metaphors:

1 · Firstly, identify the key concepts that you want to convey with images. For example, imagine you are working on a corporate values course. Your key concepts can be each value:

  • Teamwork
  • Strength

These will be “representative” or complex terms.

2 ·  The next step is to analyze each term. Think of the qualities that come to mind for each concept. For example:

  • Teamwork is working all together towards the same objective
  • Strength is that nothing can break us.

You can find one, two or more qualities: The better you describe each concept, the more probabilities you will have to find a powerful image.

3 ·  Then think “literally” or “known concepts” to represent what you have described. Note down a small list of situations that represent them. For example:

  • Working all together towards the same objective: a rugby team
  • Nothing can break us: a thick and resistant cord


Did you know you have found your metaphors now?


That’s it! In this case:

  • Teamwork, like a rugby team
  • Strength, like a thick cord

4 ·  The last step is finding images that represent your literal terms. We have found images for these two:

See how easy it is? To use images as metaphors: All you have to do is use your imagination and think of all possible literal terms for your key concepts. You will easily master it and your courses will be more visual and educational from using them.


Straightforward with isEazy

Unsplash is a useful tool in isEazy with an image bank. Approximately half a million free images with high quality and free rights, all for you to use. Unsplash is fantastic and not only tags images literally, for example, child, cord or arrow, but also by meaning and metaphor. For example, see the images when looking for “strength”:

Do you usually use metaphors in images in your e-learning courses? Tell us about the impacting images you have used and how they were successful!

Happy e-learning!


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