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Photo: Kelly Sikkema
We live in a world of visual information, with the younger generation exposed to more visual content than ever before. They have at their disposal unlimited graphic media that uses diagrams, illustrations, infographics, and videos. And although these types of learning tools have been used for decades, with the development of new technology in education, they’re now more accessible than ever before.
While all students benefit from the use of pictures, images, and color to help them learn, the visual style learner who relies on visual stimulus to recognize and remember important information benefits the most. Also known as the “spatial learning style”, visuals for the spatial learner help them take an abstract concept and turn it into a concept that is concrete and that they can more easily understand.1
What makes visual learners different from the auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic learning types?
The Visual Style of Learning
Visual learners prefer to learn by what they see, as they think in pictures instead of with words. They’re more successful when they learn using visual images, watching demonstrations, and following written instructions. Children who are visual learners get a lot of enjoyment from puzzles, games with visual patterns, mazes, and building with Lego.
Here are some of the strengths and characteristics of the visual/special learner:2
Easily Retain Information
Visual learners retain more information when they can see it, rather than information that they can only hear. It’s believed that the human brain is able to process visual information 60,000 times quicker than it’s able to process the written word. This is corroborated by what Dr. Lynell Burmark, education consultant and author of “Visual Literacy: Learn to See, See to Learn”, has to say about visual learning:3
…unless our words, concepts, ideas are hooked onto an image, they will go in one ear, sail through the brain, and go out the other ear. Words are processed by our short-term memory where we can only retain about 7 bits of information (plus or minus 2) […]. Images, on the other hand, go directly into long-term memory where they are indelibly etched.
Great Comprehension of Visual Information
Visual learners are able to take what they see and quickly and efficiently comprehend the information. They can easily imagine the images that they see, finding connections and patterns between different ideas in ways they can’t when this same information is presented to them verbally. Visual learners will often be confused by verbal information and instructions, preferring to get the information down on paper where they can read the words.
Thrive on Visual Organization
You’ll recognize visual learners in the classroom – they keep detailed written notes in notebooks, often using creative ways to organize information. Younger students will use doodles and lots of color to keep information vibrant and memorable while students in higher grades use their own visual aids to stay organized, such as mind maps and charts.
Other characteristics of the visual learner include:5
- Pay attention to small details
- Have good handwriting
- Have difficulty paying attention during lectures
- Need to see directions rather than just hear them
- Are avid and focused readers
Educational Tools for the Visual Learner
Let’s face it, kids are fascinated with technology. So combining learning with technology is a great way to gain the attention of the visual learner in ways that accommodate their learning style – with EdTech that is bold and engaging. These are just a few of the EdTech tools that are available today:
Developed for young readers aged 3 to 8 who are learning reading skills, and for kids 8 to 12 to help them with reading comprehension, Squiggle Park is ideal for visual learners – it’s bright, vibrant, and fun as it uses games to engage kids and build up their language and reading skills. Founded by Canadians Leah Skerry and Julia Rivard Dexter in 2017, Squiggle Park is being used by over 6000 schools around the world.
ThingLink lets students take images and video and add their own notes, audio, and information links. The visual learner is able to use images to their advantage as they communicate in the way they best understand – with pictures. Once they’ve completed their own project, they’ll be able to share what they’ve created both with classmates and online.8
Kidspiration is software that was developed for young K-5 visual learners . Branded as “the visual way to explore and understand words, numbers, and concepts”, this EdTech tool uses graphics to help students make visual connections to basic skills in math, science, reading, writing, and social studies. While not as flashy as other EdTech out there, Kidspiration is easy to use and keeps kids visually involved in the learning process.
Sumdog is a good educational tool for K-5 students, developed to “motivate children to work on maths, reading and writing”. Visual learners will quickly engage with the graphics, learning new skills as they compete with other students from around the world.
Used worldwide in thousands of schools, Sumdog is also being used by the Ontario and WNCP (Western and Northern Canadian Protocol) school curriculums.
On a personal note, no login was needed to play math games at Sumdog, so I played Junkpile with “Blue Whale”, a grade school student from New Jersey – and didn’t fare too well with the fractions!
Providing More Visual Learning
Students today want more visual content no matter what their learning style. They’re becoming more and more familiar learning information visually as educators and parents acknowledge learning styles and the teaching methods that work best for each type.
By providing a variety of EdTech tools in the classroom and at home, we’re able to give visual learners the advantages to obtain the skills they need to succeed as they continue their education. And they certainly won’t be lacking in selecting visual learning methods as new educational software applications are being developed every year.
1Michell, M. (2017, September 25). Kinesthetic, Visual, Auditory, Tactile, Oh My! What Are Learning Modalities and How Can You Incorporate Them in the Classroom? Edmentum. Retrieved on March 23, 2019 from https://blog.edmentum.com/kinesthetic-visual-auditory-tactile-oh-my-what-are-learning-modalities-and-how-can-you-incorporate
2Roell, K. (2019, January 29). The Visual Learning Style. ThoughtCo. Retrieved on March 23, 2019 from https://www.thoughtco.com/visual-learning-style-3212062
3Eisenberg, H. (2014, September 15). Humans Process Visual Data Better. Thermopylae Sciences & Technology. Retrieved on March 23, 2019 from http://www.t-sciences.com/news/humans-process-visual-data-better
4Gray-Grant, H. (2016, July 26). The Move to Visuals (And Why You Should Care). Slaw. Retrieved on March 23, 2019 from http://www.slaw.ca/2016/07/26/the-move-to-visuals-and-why-you-should-care/
5NAU Canada. (2018, September 04). 3 Great Study Tips to Fit Your Learning Style. NAU Canada. Retrieved on March 23, 2019 from https://canada.national.edu/3-great-study-tips-to-fit-your-learning-style/