New study shows that graphic novels really do help people learn

New study shows that graphic novels really do help people learn

If there’s one trend we’ve noticed growing over the years its the use of graphic novels as teaching tools—on the must basic level, comics are now recognized as a way to get reluctant readers to get started reading. On a larger level, comics are being used as a general teaching tool. Josh Elder’s Reading with Pictures organization has been promoting this idea and cataloging the use of comics in the classroom. It’s not just the visceral appeal of colorful pictures that puts comics over—some think that the verbal-visual blend is the future of literacy, and comics could potentially be on the forefront of that.

This is an idea that Scott McCloud has talked about forever, but now there’s a study that shows that comics may actually help people retain information BETTER than traditional text books.:
University of Oklahoma professor Jeremy Short co-authored a new study, titled “Graphic presentation: An empirical examination of the graphic novel approach to communicate business concepts.” The study involved 140 undergraduate business seniors. According to short:

The experiment had one set of participants read a short excerpt from Atlas Black: The Complete Adventure, a graphic novel created to teach key management concepts using the storyline of two students aspiring to start their own business. A second set of participants read material from a traditional textbook covering the same topics. Participants were then given a short quiz about the material covered in the excerpts. While both groups were able to apply the concepts, the results indicated that participants who had read the graphic novel excerpt were better able to recognize direct quotes than participants exposed to the traditional textbook.
In a companion study, 114 students assigned a graphic novel in a senior level business course were asked to provide feedback regarding their experiences with the book. Over 80% of students indicated that the graphic novel compared favorably to traditional textbooks.
The findings reported in this research suggest that businesses might find a good return on training dollars by creating illustrated versions of key training manuals, human resource materials, safety documents, and other materials where verbatim recall is critical to business success. To facilitate integration into the business world, trainers, managers, and coworkers should also be aware that the next generation of employees may have learning needs and preferences that differ from the traditional text-only employee handbook.

The entire study will be published in an upcoming issue of Business Communication Quarterly, and Short did a TED talk on it just last Friday.

It’s part of a growing body of study showing how the verbal visual blend hits the brain. If this finding holds up, it could be a bombshell for comics, as business race to prepare their textbooks in comics form.

Short did a TED talk last year on graphic novels which you can view here:


  1. says

    Yep, in this day and age people need “a study”(not sarcasm) to get on board with anything and this is a plus for comics. now we need to push it and bring it up often.

  2. Swampy says

    Anyone who’s read Oishinbo or any other educational manga can attest to this idea.

  3. says

    I appreciate the comments about our research! I’ll be teaching a free management class (MOOC) this summer featuring the graphic novel material I developed and tested in the above study (we will also use a traditional textbook). Please feel free to look at our website – and register online to take the class this summer.

  4. Dave Hartley says

    It’s an idea that keeps getting rediscovered.

    “Since 1942 we have sold more than 5 million copies of Picture Stories from the Bible, in the United States. It is widely used by churches and schools to make religion more real and vivid.
    “Picture Stories from the Bible is published throughout the world in dozens of translations. But it is nothing more nor nothing less than a comic magazine.”

    Personally I always felt I got a better sense of why I should be sticking it to the man from reading Spain Rodriguez than I did from any radical text.

  5. says

    Count me in for the MOOC class this summer. I love seeing comics examined academically. That’s really, really good for the industry’s future.

  6. says

    We used Larry Gonick’s Cartoon History and Cartoon Guide books to good effect, when homeschooling our two younger sons!

  7. says

    Hi every one I recommend all of you to watch this wonderful video which talk about how reading novels elp us to learn a language.

  8. Mr_Doggie says

    I have been a technical writer for high-tech for many years, and I can tell you many, many engineers and general staff do much better retaining information with detailed illustrations. When an engineer is on-call at 2am, they want to see and comprehend a process immediately, no futzing around, no scanning through pages of text. If this doesn’t happen, I hear the wrath the next day.
    A sea of pure text was NEVER optimal, never worked in any decade.

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