What images come to mind when you hear the word “school?” An apple on a desk? A stack of books? A big yellow bus? Such immediate associations, though ingrained and intuitively powerful, don’t necessarily make the best choice when communicating about modern education. Just like the worlds of business, sports, medicine and entertainment, the educational landscape is evolving too—embracing cultural, technological and stylistic changes as it grows.

If education is your business, it’s critical that you speak the language of modern learning. Here are 11 themes often used in educational imagery along with some updated ideas and new perspectives that demonstrate an understanding of today’s educational environment.

1. Grade School vs Lifelong Learning

Once the domain of kids and teens, school’s for everyone now. Professionals from every industry pursue graduate degrees today, and even seniors can be found in continuing ed classes. So be sure to include people aged 4 to 84 in any communications that talk broadly about education — and include non-school locales sometimes, too.

Search Tip: Pair more generational terms like “adult,” “teen,” “senior” and “child” with educational terms like “learning,” “school” and “class.” Don’t forget to include various learning environments like “community center” and “summer camp.”


2. Chalkboards vs. Screens

Chalkboards are a perennial. Classrooms the world over will likely always have one up front, but there’s also a movement toward whiteboards and digitally-run smart screens. Use a mix of screens in your messaging to tie “old school” and “new school” together

Search Tip: Look for “screens” and “boards” along with words like “teaching,” “instruction,” “lesson” and “class.”


3. Paper vs. Computers

Pencil cases and notebooks are almost kitschy throwback implements for students nowadays, who can routinely be found taking notes on their own individual iPads, laptops and PCs. Technology influences all learning today—and your messaging should reflect this trend strongly.

Search Tip: Look for images that pair physical artifacts like “paper” and “pencil” with educational standbys like “notes,” “homework” and “learning.” Throw in tech terms like “devices,” “laptop” and “headphones” to represent the modern student experience.


4. General Ed vs. STEM

Grade school educational subjects remain largely the same over the years, with your basics (History, English, Math, Phys Ed, etc.) still in every student’s schedule. Renewed emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, however, make those particular subjects extra-strong choices for organizations looking to depict modern education.

Search Tip: Use terms related to the specific age-group you’re referencing, and get specific with some image details you’d like to see, like “blueprint,” “motherboard,” “circuit” or “piano.”


5. Studying at Desk vs. Anywhere

More often than not, studying is a solo endeavor, but group study sessions can be beneficial too. Use this experience to highlight authentic, personal moments that can take place in study hall, in the library or on the couch with the cat. Play with perspective and lighting that feels true and authentic, and  don’t forget to include electronic devices.

Search Tip: Try “desk” and “lamp” with “study” or “cram”— and throw in “solo,”  “alone” or “candid” to get an intimate portrayal of study time.


6. Recess vs. Relax

When choosing visuals around the topic of break time, look for images that portray emotions associated with community and relaxation. The word “recess” brings to mind panoramic images of playgrounds and kickball games, but it can be an ideal theme to approach more intimately, with close-up shots of friends sharing a laugh — or a snack.

Search Tip: Look for relational terms like “friends” and “colleagues,” and pair them with words around time-out endeavors, like “lunchtime,” “coffee-break” and specific activities like “soccer” or “walking.”


7. Exclusive vs. Inclusive

It almost goes without saying that inclusivity is foundational to any strong public communications message today. Let your imagery reflect the diversity of your audience.

Search Tip: Include words like “diverse,” “ethnicity,” “cultural” and “multi” in your education searches.


8. Frogs vs. 01110010011

Maybe you’re old enough to remember dissecting a frog or guinea pig in 9th grade science. If not, chances are you’ve already “dissected” one digitally. Such technological shifts are lower-impact and scalable (plus, no formaldehyde stench), and any physical science imagery will reflect this trend toward digital learning.

Kids Coding In School.
Listening to Music From the Web

Search Tip: “Digital learning” is a good place to start, and you can add “science,” “biology,” “engineering” or any other subject to get more specific search results.


9. Day vs. Night

True, most of a school day’s activities take place during daylight hours, but consider some nighttime school-related shots to lend more authenticity and interest to your messaging. Think post-game bus rides, night classes, late-night cram sessions with coffee, or even Friday night football games.

Search Tip: Look for “night school” and “evening classes,” or search other nighttime-related terms like “stadium lights,” “streetlamp,”  “moon” and “sunset” along with learning-oriented terms.


10. Classroom vs. Distance Learning

Brick & mortar schools are education’s bread & butter, but many classes (and even entire degrees) can be earned online today. Just like work, education can now happen at home or at the café — in a business suit or in pajamas.

Search Tip: Search terms related to online learning, like “distance,”  “education,” “online” and “classes,” as well as terms more suited to the student’s experience, like “lecture,” “couch,” “studying” and “café.”


11. Student vs. Family

School is all about the student — and most of your visuals should reflect that. But don’t be afraid to also take a step back on occasion, and let the field of vision widen to include the parent who gets their child to school every morning and helps with homework every night. Because ultimately, school is not just about one person; it’s about family, community — all of us.

Search Tip: Try family member terms like “mother,” “brother” and “grandpa” along with more generic educational terms like “student,” “school” and “homework.”

Explore more educational imagery that goes beyond the clichés at iStock by Getty Images