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Visual Learning: The Pros and Cons

on June 22, 2014 - 7:58am
Courtesy/Creative Commons www.flickr.com

By JONA JONE

Different people have different learning styles. There are those of you who can remember names of people you have just met. Or easily execute complex choreographies learned within an hour.

There also are people who can easily remember images, or situations they’ve experienced. These people are sensitive to colors, shapes and how things are related to each other. If you are the latter, then you can call yourself a visual learner.

Visual learners have an amazing memory. They are usually highly sensitive to how certain things look and can easily see the big picture. In other words, visual learners often feel the need to have goals. These goals are then divided into small tasks that they can focus on. Visual learners are also good at imagining situations and events. They can simulate scenarios in their minds and carefully plan their actions according to each outcome. This means that most people who learn mainly through visualization are the ones who plan things carefully.

Maps, graphs and diagrams are more effective to visual learners than words and numbers. Connecting bits of information together and integrating them into a larger picture also comes easily to them. Video clips, movies and images are also great for them to learn new things quickly.

The world of Internet and computers is a paradise for visual learners. Using technology is great for visual learners as they are able to engage their imagination with sophisticated animation, footages and even colors. Applications that can easily replace typical office presentation software provide enough visual movement to catch the attention any visual learner. Creating mind maps, graphic organizers and timelines are also easier especially with available tools online. Teachers can lay down details and zoom out for the students to see the big picture and how different parts of information work together.

For example, in teaching concepts such as human anatomy, teachers can start with showing students with pictures of organs with labels on them using projected images or on tablets. Movies and video clips can then further clarify and show the organs at work. The teacher can then connect the organs together in another presentation or movie and show how they integrate into one working system. Through this, visual learners can create mental categories and easily remember each piece of information while understanding complex concepts.

Students who are visual learners also love to draw and doodle. A student who is busy drawing during a lecture may look distracted, but by visualizing ideas heard from the teacher by drawing it on paper makes it easier for him/her to remember and understand new and difficult topics.

Visual learners also love to reflect on things they have learned. They often process new ideas and tries to connect them with things they already know. That is why teachers should take advantage of frequent study breaks to allow students to breathe and process new concepts and ideas. Visual learners also benefit from open ended tasks and assignments. Without too much instruction on how to do something, students can explore several ideas and imagine different scenarios. Through this, students can develop creativity while learning problem solving techniques.

However, being a visual learner does have its downsides. As people who learn through eyesight, distractions are common and a burden when intense focus is needed. Students who study on the computer are often distracted by notifications and websites that entice them visually. These often break the train of thought and hamper understanding. Even in a classroom setting, visual learners are easily distracted with things happening out the window or colorful images on a presentation.

People who dedicate their time studying through visual aids also find it difficult to carry out tasks that need dexterity or muscle memory. One may know how to do a back flip by watching videos or looking at pictures, but it would still be difficult to execute as the muscles and the body itself is not familiar with the movements.

Visual learning, while great for self-study, is not ideal for activities that require interaction with groups of people. Visual learners are limited to scenarios they can imagine and real events may prove to be different from the learner's expectations. It is also necessary for people who need to work in teams to socialize and interact with others.

A better way to teach visual learners is to combine visual learning techniques with kinesthetic learning. Skills that need muscle memory and development require movements. Children and developing teens, who are visual learners, should be able to apply what they have learned visually through activities and interactions while playing. Visual learning cannot develop the necessary social and verbal skills required by children in order to understand their world. Technology may help them understand complex ideas, but outside play and physica activities still have their perks.

Even adults, who are used to getting information visually from computers or smartphones can take advantage of learning through movements. Doing small projects such as building models can enhance spatial skills and develop hand-eye coordination as well. They key is to synchronize the body with the brain. By allowing the body and the mind to work together, a person can understand and tackle problems in different angles. This can also help people to excel in sports that require physical skills and strategic mindset such as basketball or soccer.

Developing the body is as important and improving the mind. As with all things, balance is necessary to bring out the best in you. It may be tempting to sit all day in front of the computer, but a game of tennis once in awhile will not hurt and can even improve your learning abilities.   

Jona Jone is a writer and mother of two young children. She runs the blog BreezyHub.com. She recently wrote about Raising a 21st Century Kid.

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