Though the idea of learning styles has fallen from favor in education circles due to a lack of compelling research data that supports its effectiveness, there’s quite of bit of misunderstanding about it all. First, some clarity.
‘Learning styles’ imply that certain students learn more effectively certain ways–more kinesthetically than musically, for example. Pashler, McDaniel, Rohrer, and Bjork summarize learning styles for us a bit more in-depth below.
“The term ‘‘learning styles’’ refers to the concept that individuals differ in regard to what mode of instruction or study is most effective for them. Proponents of learning-style assessment contend that optimal instruction requires diagnosing individuals’ learning style and tailoring instruction accordingly. Assessments of learning style typically ask people to evaluate what sort of information presentation they prefer (e.g., words versus pictures versus speech) and/or what kind of mental activity they find most engaging or congenial (e.g., analysis versus listening), although assessment instruments are extremely diverse. The most common—but not the only—hypothesis about the instructional relevance of learning styles is the meshing hypothesis, according to which instruction is best provided in a format that matches the preferences of the learner (e.g., for a ‘‘visual learner,’’ emphasizing visual presentation of information).”
What the research says is that the brain does process information in different ways, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that a ‘visual learner’ can’t learn by listening, or even that they’ll learn poorly. There is precious little research that says a student will learn ‘more’ if taught ‘their way’–especially if all students are ultimately assessed the same way in the end.
But that doesn’t mean that learning modalities aren’t real. Processing new information in different ways has different effects on how we understand that information. We might benefit from seeing something first, then touching it next, then listening to someone explain it, then seeing it again, and so on. It’s not a linear process.
For example, Clemson University professor Linda Nilson explains that “visual teaching modalities lead to deeper, more conceptual learning since visuals can provide the ‘big picture’ as to how concepts are related. Visuals also promote longer retention and easier retrieval of information.”
There’s a reason entire companies shoehorn themselves into little visual symbols (Apple’s logo, for example). And metaphors in our language are so common because they’re effective. We talk about ‘the big idea’ rather than ‘the most important concept’ because the visual of an idea that’s ‘big’ is interesting, easy to visualize, and simple to recall.
Simply put, visuals help people understand. They help compel them to feel emotion and give them a visual anchor to recall ideas. That means they work, so we’ve collected a list of visual teaching tools and resources below for your perusal. And the next time someone starts blabbering to you about learning styles being “debunked,” ask them to clarify exactly what they mean, and what takeaways said ‘debunking’ should have for our collective craft of teaching.
Visuals help students learn.
50 Ideas And Resources For More Visual Learning
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Shelley Paul and Jill Gough had heard that doodling while taking notes could help improve memory and concept retention, but as instructional coaches they were reluctant to bring the idea to teachers without trying it out themselves first. To give it a fair shot, Paul tried sketching all her notes from a two-day conference.
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Session Essential Questions 1. How can instructional leaders encourage high levels of metacognitive response in activities and projects?...
The Showing Evidence app links to a free online tool where teachers can set up a project in which students must state a claim, provide evidence to support their claim, and rate the quality of their evidence. The mobile app allows students to add their thoughts to the project and makes it possible for teachers to monitor their students' work on the go.
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Teaching Math Without Words, A Visual Approach to learning Math from MIND Research Institute
Matthew Peterson, CEO of MIND Research Institute, speaks at TEDx Orange Coast, explaining how words are great barriers to learning for a majority of students...
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These workshops can be used for live instruction and cover topics ranging from the fundamentals of graphic design to practical everyday business projects. These resources are for teachers looking to inspire their students to think and express themselves creatively through visual design.
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Each of the following graphic organisers includes a description, and explains how, why and when it should be used. Where available, links are provided to examples of how schools have successfully used a graphic organiser in the classroom.
Australian National Curriculum Resources F-6 Home
This book is aimed at newcomers to the field of logical reasoning, particularly those who, to borrow a phrase from Pascal, are so made that they understand best through visuals. It contains a small set of common errors in reasoning which are visualized using memorable illustrations that are supplemented with lots of examples. The hope is that the reader will learn from these pages some of the most common pitfalls in arguments and be able to identify and avoid them in practice.
This work is adapted from:
An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments by Ali Almossawi, bookofbadarguments.com, 2013 and was shared under a Creative Commons BY-NC license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/).
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50 Ideas And Resources For More Visual Learning; image attribution flickr user sachachua