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Understanding Visual Learning

The range of human heterogeneity is best summed up in the words of Clyde Kluckhohn – Every human is like one another, in a nutshell. 

This diversity also reflects in how we learn and acquire knowledge. As such, learning methods can be as different as chalk and cheese. In fact, Neil Fleming, the brain behind the VARK model of learning style, established a pseudoscientific collection of sensory modalities on the various learning methods. One of these modalities is visual learning, which we'll discuss in this guide. 

So, buckle up and bonne lecture! Here's what we'll be covering in this piece:

- What is a visual learning style?

- What is a visual learner?

- Who is a visual learner?

- Traits of visual learners

- Are you a visual learner?

- Benefits of visual learning

- Study techniques for visual learners

- Visual learning style strategies

- Tips for working with a visual learner

- How to use visual learning style in an Interview

What is a visual learning style?

“If one wants to teach younger people at an earlier age to shape their minds in a critical way, you really need to know how ideas and emotions are expressed visually.” – Martin Scorsese.

The definition of visual learning describes it as a learning style in which an individual needs to see information to process it. This method of learning is also known as the spatial learning style. It utilizes visual stimulation to interpret information, such as graphs, maps, charts, diagrams, and sometimes even doodles. 

Here's an anecdote –

Maestro Arturo Toscanini, at a rehearsal of Debussy’s La Mer, was unable to express what he wanted to the orchestra. He couldn’t describe to his orchestra the precise musical effect he wanted to create. So, after some pondering, he tossed his silk handkerchief in the air. “There,” he said, pointing at the graceful and slow descent of the handkerchief, “play it like that”. 

This vignette stands as a classic example of using visual cues to communicate thoughts, something that visual learners excel at. 

Who is a visual learner?

The visual learner is an individual who sees things in terms of spatial awareness, brightness and contrast, colors and tones, and visual information of the like, and applies it to enhance learning. 

A visual learner prefers to look at information in order to absorb it. They use visuals in the same way that an auditory learner uses listening skills to learn better. 

Therefore, diagrams, charts, and maps are indispensable tools to a visual type of learner

The following visual learning facts indicate that visual literacy is more deeply engrained in our heads than we realize: 

  • 90% of the information processed by the human brain is visual.
  • On average, it takes a human brain only 13 milliseconds to process an image.
  • Our brain processes an image 60,000 times faster than a text.
  • More people remember what they see than what they hear or read.

Visual learners, however, are capable of channelizing their cognitive abilities to interpret visual information more efficiently. This helps them grasp ideas through visuals, thereby enhancing their learning capabilities. A picture is, indeed, worth a thousand words for a visual learner.

Are visual learners the majority of the populace?

A straightforward answer to the above question is this – approximately 65% of the global population. Given this large number, it is highly likely that you, too, are a visual learner. However, this fact should not come as a surprise to you at all. Visuals play a big part in how we process information, not just today but ever since the days of yore. 

Think of it this way; if you go back in time, you will notice that written language is a mere collection of images. Humanity used visuals to communicate ideas among members of a community before verbal language was invented. Cave paintings stand as evidence of this primitive form of communication through visuals, some of which date back as far as 40,000 years. Although we aren’t sure if the infamously cryptic Nazca lines are evidence of prehistoric aliens (some believe that they are), we are confident enough to say that they are a great visual learning style example, and its application in expression. 

Coming back to the present day, toddlers still exhibit the primal human desire to use visuals in conveying messages. Remember the drawings you made as a child, which seemed meaningless to most people? Psychology says that children’s drawings tell a lot about their joys, fears, dreams, and even nightmares. So, a child’s eerie-looking sketch actually speaks volumes about his/her emotions.

Today, visual literacy and communication are becoming increasingly non-verbal. Visual cues have evolved to a point where we know if a person is sad without them even uttering a word - a yellow face with teary eyes indicates this emotion well enough.  

So, it seems that humans have an innate tendency to express themselves visually

Traits of a visual learner

A visual learner has some innate characteristics, which includes the following:

  • Visual memory

Visual learners have an uncanny visual memory through which they gain the ability to remember and recall information. In fact, they have a mental image of activities, pictures, or words that have been viewed in the past. Sounds like a superpower, doesn’t it? It’s not, but you can say that it’s pretty close to one. 

  • Color coding

Visual learners are especially sensitive to colors. So, they use a vast range of colors for better learning, where each color is attached to a different meaning. For these people, color coding is a dynamic way to organize information. Therefore, a visual learner is easily discernible in a crowd through his/her impressive collection of highlighters, sticky notes, multi-colored pens, and pencils.

  • Master of visualization

Visualization is a cognitive tool for forming mental images, a technique that visual learners often master to perfection. Visualization comes naturally to them, which they use to rehearse an action or recall information mentally. 

  • Reading

Visual learners prefer written records over verbal ones. So, needless to say, they are true admirers of words. Their love for reading, coupled with a vivid sense of imagination, further intensifies a reading experience for these people.

  • Observant, focused, and attentive

You can think of a visual learner as the kid on the first bench of a classroom. As they constantly record visual information, and the fact that the modern world is filled with visual stimulations, visual learners are generally extremely observant and focused on everything around them. 

  • Loves art, a lot!

Art is an experience for most people and especially so for visual learners. As one would expect, the visual treat of a piece of art, its shapes and colors make these people staunch enthusiasts of art. 

  • Difficulties with verbal instructions

Verbal instructions are all Greek to visual learners. Spoken words often leave them scratching their heads, both figuratively and literally. 

  • Scribbles or doddles when bored

The last page of a visual learner’s notebook can very well be displayed at an art exhibition. Boredom further fires their creativity, and they doodle anything and everything when bored. 

  • A good sense of direction

Visual learners have a keen spatial sense. This often contributes to them being experts at reading maps and figuring out directions. 

Are you a visual learner?

If you are wondering whether you are a part of this coveted club or not, just ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you often say, “I can’t picture this”?
  • Will you rather follow an instructional video than listen to verbal directions?
  • Does your note-taking process include drawing things out and/or doodling?
  • Can you comprehend a concept better if images or graphics accompany it?
  • When faced with verbal instructions, do you usually say “huh” a lot?

If you are nodding in affirmation right now, then congrats, you are like Michelle (not Obama, just of the visual learner examples in this guide)Michelle is a visual learner, so she learns a lot better through the use of visual aids. This learning style endows her with the following strengths:

  • She has the ability to read, understand, and remember maps.
  • Her meticulous note-taking ability leaves one astonished.
  • Michelle has an inherent prowess in design.
  • Her organizational skills will put Monica to shame (okay, that’s an exaggeration).
  • Michelle can remember passages from a text and their location within the text.

This list of her strengths will make you wonder if Michelle is actually batman. Unfortunately, she is just another regular human being; her superpower is that she is a visual learner. 

Trivia

Famous visual learners

There are several prominent people throughout history who mastered the skill of visual learning. These individuals used their visual learning ability to hone their craft and emerge as pioneers in their lines of work. Some of them are: 

  • Albert Einstein
  • Pablo Picasso
  • Leonardo da Vinci
  • Frank Lloyd
  • Steven Spielberg, to name a few.

Benefits of visual learning

Study strategies for visual learners include consistent visual components, which extends these benefits:

  • Offers better engagement with a study material
  • Increases retention of a learner by 29-42%
  • Enhancing tactile hand-eye-mind connections, which enhances a visual learner’s ability to recall information and retain it
  • Development of higher-order thinking skills
  • Hones fundamental abilities that help a student see and conceptualize visuals more clearly
  • Provides new opportunities to some individuals with learning differences
  • It presents a better way of learning for visual learners
  • Visual learning is used as a best-practice intervention method for individuals on the autism spectrum

Study techniques for a visual learner

To fully implement study strategies for visual learners in the process of learning, you need to be accustomed to the inner workings of visual literacy. The textbook definition of visual literacy entails the ability to do three things:

  • Decode
  • Imagine
  • Encode

Let us break these into smaller nuggets for you:

  • Decoding: It refers to understand a given piece of information and, therefore, translate this information made with visual imagery. 
  • Imagining: Imagine, in this context, refers to creating, interpreting, and manipulating methods of a given imagery
  • Encoding: It refers to the creation of external images through the effective perception of visual information.

Let’s bring back Michelle, shall we? In addition to these aspects, Michelle must also be an informed critic of visual information, ethically judge its accuracy, worth, and validity. Remember, poor visual comprehension is worse than no comprehension at all. 

So, to utilize visual learning techniques, it is imperative that you can read and analyze visual messages, attach a proper meaning to them, question misleading or irrelevant data, and ultimately, create a visual or verbal response to it. 

Now that these basics are out of the way, let’s dive into learning strategies for visual learners

Visual learning style strategies

One cannot leave everything to the imagination, and this statement holds true for visual learners as well. So, in order to use their almost-superpower to its fullest, visual learners should consciously apply the following strategies in their learning:

The visual learning strategies discussed below will prove to be resourceful for a visual learner. These learning strategies for visual learners facilitate better comprehension, retention, and concentration during learning: 

  • Write, write and then write some more

Make sure that you note down all information while studying. Color-coding your notes will also help you retain details better. For instance, you can use the color blue for the topics that need revision and green for the topics that you are proficient in. You can also create flashcards and use them to enhance your learning experience.

  • Request handouts, unabashedly

A random flow of information can be overwhelming for you. So, ask your instructor for a handout that you can review during a lecture. A handout will help you follow instructions with ease, structure them in your mind, and streamline information flow. 

  • Ask for demonstrations

Ask your instructor for visual demonstrations whenever it is possible. Seeing a concept or principle in action will simplify them, making learning effortless for you. 

  • Put your doodling skills to use

Remember- imagery is your best friend. So, transform verbal information into doodles, drawings, and flowcharts. These will also decrease your hassles during revisions. Just take a glance at a diagram, and voilà, you are good to go!

  • Add white space in your notes

Do not pack your notes with random scribbling. Avoid jam-packing your visuals with incoherent information. A good way to segregate them is to include more white space in your notes, which will clean-up your visuals and increase your retention.

  • Study through visual clips

Multimedia works wonderfully well for visual learners. So, make sure that you refer to video tutorials, graphics, or animations, which will solidify your understanding of a concept.

  • Participate in verbal interactions

Do not go into your shell and shy away from verbal interactions. We realize that leaving the comfort zone doesn’t sound like a good idea to you right now. However, it is sometimes necessary to do so. John Assaraf said it best when he said that a comfort zone is a beautiful place but nothing ever grows there. 


Tips for working with a visual learner

Visual learners can be difficult to communicate with, especially if you are not one. But, you can always eliminate this hindrance by keeping these tips at the back of your head:

  • Present ideas and information in a visual manner

To ensure a smooth transfer of thoughts and ideas, you can present them in a visual manner. A visual learner can grasp information when it is presented in a visual form. However, this does not mean that they cannot comprehend verbal communication. It just means that their brain processes visual information better.

  • Try using written communication

As visual learners prefer written words over the spoken ones, you can try making a written record of goals, agenda, plans, and strategies. If you wish to explain a concept to a visual learner, grab a whiteboard or a piece of paper, whatever is handy at the moment, and elucidate ideas through written words, flowcharts, graphs, and the like. 

You can also sketch things out for them. Don’t worry; you do not need to channelize your inner Picasso for this task; just make sure that your doodle is comprehensible. 

  • Give them some space

Exceptional visual learning skills and introversion is a match made in hell. If you are working with an introverted visual learner, then remember this advice like a mantra – give them their space. However, most visual learners, whether introverted or not, prefer to work in solitude. So, make sure you initiate interaction with them without overwhelming them and give them the space they cherish. 

  • Be patient – reflection time

Working with anyone, a visual learner or not, requires you be to be extremely patient. And, in the case of visual learners, make sure to give them some reflection time to process information.

How to use visual learning style in an Interview

Visual learners prefer non-verbal communication, often a serious impediment during an interview, which calls for fluid verbal communication. So, what can a visual learner do when faced with an important job interview? Well, there are three options to choose from:

Option A: Blame yourself for not being a good communicator and then fall into a dark abyss of self-pity

Option B: Claim interviews as inherently subjective, relatively inconsistent, and highly unreliable hiring tools, and devise plans to avoid your job interview

Option C: Use visual learning style strategies to your advantage and ace the interview

Allow us to assume that you went for option C (no judgments, though, if you didn’t), in which case you can use visual learning style in this manner: 

  • Watch online tutorials

The internet is a hub of visual content that you can leverage during this preparation. For example, Michelle has issues with technical questions pertaining to coding languages. So, she decided to log into the World Wide Web and use her Googling skills to the maximum. 

As a visual learner, you can opt for online content that will help you gather information more efficiently and etch them in your memory. You cannot understand the pros and cons of database denormalization? Consider watching the netizens explain it on various video sharing platforms such as YouTube. 

  • Visualize the interview process

A visual learner’s most distinctive asset is his/her ability to visualize practically anything. So, get in the frame of mind where you can visualize the interview process. Try to stay optimistic and imagine that this interview is going great and that you are performing extraordinarily well. Then, assume some common questions that the interviewee can throw at you, and be mentally prepared to tackle them like a pro. This practice will help you ease up, and you will bid sweet goodbyes to anxieties that often accompany a critical job interview. 

Interestingly, this is also backed up by psychologists. In fact, research indicates that those who imagine themselves performing a task actually improve their performance in that particular task. So, it turns out that mental practices are almost as effective as true physical practices. 

  • Chalk out your answers

Again, use the internet and look up some common questions that are generally asked during job interviews. Some of these questions are as below:

  • Tell us about yourself
  • What are your strengths and weakness?
  • Why do you want to be a part of this company?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years from now?

There’s a good chance that you will be asked some of these basic questions. So, curate your answers in advance. The trick here is to gain a fair idea of your answers and not frame them word-by-word. So, try not to get robotic while repeating these answers during the actual interview. 

  • Practice in front of a mirror

If you are feeling insecure about communication skills, a practical method is to deal with it is this - see it eye to eye. Accept your shortcomings, but do not let them overwhelm you. A mirror is a great tool to brush up your skills. If it helps, think of yourself as Taxi Driver’s Robert De Niro and the scene where he has a full-blown conversation with a mirror. However, we suggest that you practice this technique in a private space because if someone sees you talking to a reflective object, they will question your sanity.  

These practices will help you get well-versed with the interview process and be prepared to face tricky questions and situations.

Parting thoughts

Now that we are parting ways, allow us to drop some wisdom. So, here it goes -

The best way to entice your mind into knowledge is to view learning as a process and not as a practice. This perspective opens new doors for learners, allowing them to identify and harness a learning method that works for them. Visual learning techniques are an incredible resource to acquire knowledge, so make sure you use them to your full potential.