3 Ways to Engage Visual Learners (and hopefully all learners)

Michael Cohen
Jul 26, 2016 · 4 min read

I think in pictures. Needless to say, I was quite surprised when I first heard that others thought with words. Then I realized even thoughts made up of words are pictures as well. We are visual creatures. Still, in the classroom we rely mostly on verbal communication backed by technology in the form of text based slideshows, and words on the board. This 20th century approach still in practice is not only outdated but is leaving behind a majority of learners to struggle on their own to internalize information. This approach was developed with technologies available in the 1900’s, primarily printed books, pencils, and paper. Today’s educators can no longer ignore multimedia technologies when looking to support all learners in the classroom. When exploring how to integrate more multimedia and visual communication methods in your classroom, consider these 3 ways to engage visual learners, and hopefully all learners.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

What do you think of when you see this photo? Now what about in the context of education’s relationship with technology? Based on Dr. Richard Mayer’s work in Multimedia Learning Theory over the past three decades, this image should create a visual marker for the conversation around it. This image then, can not just connect “visual learners” but create a memory marker for all learners when trying to remember information that was presented. This, more than a list of bullet points, or even a sentence or two will create a memorable moment for learners.

Consider This: Build a lecture or conversation around a slide deck with NO words, and see what happens.

Stimulate all the senses

When someone learns, the more senses that are activated, the more memorable the learning can be. Challenge students to create artifacts of learning that contain visual, audial, and kinesthetic elements. When comparing a worksheet or essay to a multi-touch book containing audio files, video, and photos, all while promoting touch and movement, ask yourself which experience is more memorable.

Consider This: Give students a challenge of using multimedia to assess their own knowledge, while allowing their work to be used for others to learn from.

The classroom should mirror the world around them

If you ask most students, they live a double life. One in school and one out. As educators we must question why this is the case. We need to bridge the gap by using the platforms and methods they use everyday. This doesn’t mean that Snapchat needs to come into the 2nd grade classroom, but it does mean that we need to learn a thing or two from the world of marketing, advertising, and social media. We need to understand the power of visuals to not just influence, but engrain a message into the minds of those who interact with it. This can be done in any classroom, with any content.

Consider This: Explore ways for students to capture the theme of learning with a strong visual and a quote. Challenge students to use multimedia to be clear, concice, and of course memorable.

Challenge: How can you bring these visual communication concepts into your classroom to engage students in meaningful learning?

For more about Dr. Richard Mayer check out his book Multimedia Learning Theory and his lecture at Harvard.

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Michael Cohen

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Cultivating Creative Practice in Education - Designer, Problem Solver, Storyteller, M.S.Ed, Apple Distinguished, Creator — The #EducatedByDesign Project