Many learning models have been proposed for various tasks in visual computing. Popular examples include hidden Markov models and support vector machines. Recently, sparse-representation-based learning methods have attracted a lot of attention in the computer vision field, largely because of their impressive performance in many applications. In the literature, many of such sparse learning methods focus on designing or application of some learning techniques for certain feature space without much explicit consideration on possible interaction between the underlying semantics of the visual data and the employed learning technique. Rich semantic information in most visual data, if properly incorporated into algorithm design, should help achieving improved performance while delivering intuitive interpretation of the algorithmic outcomes. My study addresses the problem of how to explicitly consider the semantic information of the visual data in the sparse learning algorithms. In this work, we identify four problems which are of great importance and broad interest to the community. Specifically, a novel approach is proposed to incorporate label information to learn a dictionary which is not only reconstructive but also discriminative; considering the formation process of face images, a novel image decomposition approach for an ensemble of correlated images is proposed, where a subspace is built from the decomposition and applied to face recognition; based on the observation that, the foreground (or salient) objects are sparse in input domain and the background is sparse in frequency domain, a novel and efficient spatio-temporal saliency detection algorithm is proposed to identify the salient regions in video; and a novel hidden Markov model learning approach is proposed by utilizing a sparse set of pairwise comparisons among the data, which is easier to obtain and more meaningful, consistent than tradition labels, in many scenarios, e.g., evaluating motion skills in surgical simulations. In those four problems, different types of semantic information are modeled and incorporated in designing sparse learning algorithms for the corresponding visual computing tasks. Several real world applications are selected to demonstrate the effectiveness of the proposed methods, including, face recognition, spatio-temporal saliency detection, abnormality detection, spatio-temporal interest point detection, motion analysis and emotion recognition. In those applications, data of different modalities are involved, ranging from audio signal, image to video. Experiments on large scale real world data with comparisons to state-of-art methods confirm the proposed approaches deliver salient advantages, showing adding those semantic information dramatically improve the performances of the general sparse learning methods.