How Visual Arts Inspire Microlearning Lessons – Tip #201

Share this article

If you have an important lesson to share with your learners, how do you ensure that it sticks to their memories?

You might want to take a page out of the artist’s work.

Exaggeration and the Artist

When you look at the artworks of Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh and others, you might have failed to notice one important element that’s present in all of them: exaggeration. Art movements like cubism and impressionism draw the eye or illicit emotions thanks to some overemphasized element. Picasso portrayed the human form in terms of cubes, while Van Gogh amplified color and movement in his paintings.

Our tendency to exaggerate goes back to ancient times. Have you ever encountered the Venus (or Woman) of Willendorf? It’s a figurine depicting a nude woman with exaggerated sexual attributes. Believed to have been carved during the Old Stone Age period (around 30,000 B.C.), it is associated with fertility and childbearing and was perhaps even considered a mother goddess of some type. Visual artists “instinctively know” how to exaggerate, theorizes neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran, Director of the Center for Brain and Cognition at the University of California at San Diego.

Adding One Level of Exaggeration to Your Microlearning Lessons

Exaggeration is a potent method of bringing learners’ attention to an important or critical message or lesson. Just take a look at the entertainment industry, mass media and social media, which use some form of exaggeration – the extreme, the absurd, the ridiculous, etc.—to hook the attention of their audiences.  

According to Clark Quinn, an expert in learning technology strategy and Executive Director of independent consultancy firm Quinnovation, “We should be thinking about exaggeration in our learning design.” He suggests using exaggeration as a tool to mimic the stress of real life into our learning situations to “enhance engagement and effectiveness.”  

“If we increase the meaningfulness of the learning context to match the performance context, even if the details are more dissimilar, I think it’s an effective tradeoff,” Quinn says.  

In microlearning, exaggeration can hone learning ideas. Learners respond to exaggeration because it triggers our brain to remember and relate to past experiences.  

Take a look at these examples. If you were shown these images at the start of a related training content, how would you feel? Would these visuals make you more interested or engaged in the training content? Why or why not?

[Workplace conflict]

[Example for bad customer treatment]

What are your thoughts about using exaggeration in microlearning? Can you think of any other benefits? How about any potential disadvantages? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments section below.


Annie Weatherwax. Exaggeration & Distortion: What Writers Can Learn From Visual Artists.
Ploughshares at Emerson College Wikipedia. Venus of Willendorf
Chris Higgins. V.S. Ramachandran: A Neurological Theory of Artistic Experience.
Mental Floss, June 29, 2009 “Why Exaggeration Works in Learning”
Clark Quinn. ONE level of exaggeration. Learnlets, September 26, 2018
Tip #2 – Using the ridiculous and exaggerated situations to hone learning ideas

Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
“Helping Learners Learn Their Way”