5 Study Tips for Visual Learners
Posted on November 04 2019
In a typical classroom with 20 students, there will likely be eight or nine students who remember best by seeing, five or six who remember best by hearing, and four or five who learn best by doing. These three groups of students represent the dominant learning styles described in the VAK model of learning developed by Neil D. Fleming in the 1980s. VAK stands for visual-auditory-kinesthetic. (The model was later adapted to split the visual component in two to create the VARK model that adds reading-writing.)
FamilyEducation explains that children enter kindergarten as kinesthetic learners: they understand new material and concepts by feeling, touching, moving and otherwise handling items. As students reach second and third grade, they rely increasingly on their vision to take in new information, so they become visual learners. By the time students reach the last years of elementary school, they start to learn by listening and become auditory learners.
However, individual students tend to favor one learning style over the other two; in particular, many adult males remain predominantly kinesthetic learners, while females are more likely to rely primarily on auditory learning. Yet, 65% of the population is predominantly visual learners, according to research cited by Inc.
The study tips for visual learners that follow will help these students build on their strengths to improve their academic performance.
Hone Your Note-taking Skills
Visual learners respond better to written and graphical material than to hands-on experience or to voice instruction and other auditory methods. Taking copious, well-crafted notes is an effective way for visual learners to pick up new information, concepts, and ideas. TheThings.com explains that students can use different colored pens and highlighters to color-code their notes. The following are other note-taking tips for visual learners:
- Leave space in the notes for future additions and annotations.
- Make good use of charts, graphs, and drawings in the notes.
- Create flashcards to provide repetitive visual reinforcements.
- Keep notes well organized, whether by color-coding them or using tabs or a file structure.
Another note-taking technique that enhances visual learning is to create concept maps to visually represent the connections between complex ideas. An example is a “weather” map whose first level includes “precipitation,” “climate,” and “clouds,” followed by subsequent levels that provide increasing detail on each subtopic.
Take Full Advantage of Technology
It’s easier for visual learners to retain information that’s presented to them on screens, whiteboards, videos, overhead slides, and PowerPoint presentations. By placing notes in electronic formats — viewable on tablets, smartphones, and other screens — the information is easier for visual learners to remember.
The education blog Brave in the Attempt suggests several techniques for applying tech tools to enhance visual learning:
- Use a meme generator to convert concepts into a graphic with catchy text that’s more engaging and easier to remember.
- Take advantage of online collaboration spaces (e.g., Padlet and Popplet) to create multimedia study aids that include notes, images, links, and videos.
- Annotate graphics and images via services (e.g., ThingLink) that enable notes, audio, and questions to be attached to images and videos.
- Create a timeline to represent material being taught in history or social studies classes using an online service like Sutori.
Make To-Do Lists, and Refer To Them Often
A great way for visual learners to ensure that they complete assignments on time is by tracking their schoolwork with lists. TimeCenter presents tips for planning and scheduling strategies that can be used to present upcoming tasks chronologically, in order of difficulty or importance or some other sequence.
- Choose a calendar with daily entries large enough to accommodate all the items on the student’s schedule.
- Make the calendar visually prominent, so the student sees it often through the course of the school day.
- Keep the schedule consistent but build flexibility into the activities to accommodate changes in plans (make sure the individual entries are easy to erase and revise).
- Limit the time allotted to any single subject to two hours at most (20 minutes to one hour per subject with short breaks in between is generally most effective for learning).
- Establish rewards for completing the schedule for each day, each week, and each semester.
Visual learners can lose their focus in classrooms and other academic settings by whatever may flash into their lines of sight. They can benefit from sitting near the front of classrooms and find quiet, comfortable places to study that are far from distractions. Visual learners should get regular eye exams to ensure that their vision is as sharp and clear as possible.
The parenting site ReachOut offers several suggestions for keeping students focused on their studies:
- Determine the time of day when the student’s ability to focus is strongest. Most people have peak concentration in the late morning, while others maintain focus best in the evening or late at night.
- Once you’ve found the student’s optimal time of day for studying, break the study time into short blocks for each subject, followed by a brief rest or small reward.
- Apply the ABC technique to maintain focus: awareness of the presence of distractions, breathing deeply to consider what to do about them, and making the choice either to respond to the distractions or to ignore them.
- Unplug from all phones, tablets, and computers (except the one device that may be used to study) and disable all notifications.
- Prepare a checklist of all the items needed for the study session, including water and a healthy snack.
Visually Represent What You Hear and What You Feel
A conundrum of modern education is that many teachers rely on lectures for their classroom instruction. A study published in the journal Science and reported by EurekAlert found that 55% of interactions in STEM classrooms is through lectures. Yet, as stated above, 65% of students are predominantly visual learners.
Visual learners require more time to process the information they hear, such as in a lecture. They also take longer to process the information they receive. When students are stymied by material presented in a lecture or an audio recording, they should be encouraged to draw a representation of what they heard or convert the material into a written outline. As students gain experience with translating auditory information into visual form, they can start to visualize the concepts they’re hearing.
Find the Learning Style That Is Yours Alone
While guideposts such as the VAK model can be helpful, learning styles are as unique as the students themselves. The tips presented here for visual learners can benefit all students regardless of the general category of learning style they match most closely to. Online education services, such as The American Academy, offer students and their families the flexibility of 24/7 online learning environments that accommodate the individual learning style of every student.
Learn more about the online education opportunities available from The American Academy for students working toward their high school diploma, as well as those looking to supplement their homeschooling or traditional school coursework.