A Student's Brief Overview of the Visual Learning Style
An overview of visual learners, who prefer to take in information through sight and like to learn through reading, diagrams, charts, graphs, maps, and pictures.
by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.
Visual learners prefer to take in information through sight and like to learn through reading, diagrams, charts, graphs, maps, and pictures. They can easily mentally "see" facts and concepts and are said to be able to recall at lest 75 percent of material read or observed.
Considering that the greatest number of people -- about 60 percent -- are visual learners, most classrooms are surprisingly devoid of visual-learning stimuli. Many classes primarily feature the "talking head" of the professor lecturing or the full class engaged in discussion, but not much that is compelling to a visual learner.
Class Selection Strategies
Visual learners should consider classes with strong multimedia (especially visual) elements -- such as PowerPoint presentations and films. Look into online classes or classes that are taught in computer labs. Consider graphic-design classes. Art-history classes should mesh well with your visual style. You will likely succeed in classes with writing assignments. Math classes based on geometry suit your style more than those based on algebra. If more than one section of a class is offered, go to the campus bookstore to view the texts assigned for each section. Choose the section with the most visually interesting textbooks. Note that college classes are offered in various lengths of time, such as 50 minutes, 75 minutes, 90 minutes, and two or three hours. Visual learners may become frustrated with having to listen to professors talk for long periods and may be better off taking classes that last for shorter periods when possible. Seek out professors who like to communicate via e-mail, distribute handouts (especially with illustrations), provide outlines of their lectures, give written feedback, and write copiously on the board.
- Sit in front of the class so you can watch the professor and get a good view of any visuals presented. Observe body language, hand gestures, and facial expressions.
- Take detailed notes. Consider taking notes on graph paper so you can easily add charts and diagrams.
- Include visual representations in your notes. Include, of course, any visuals that the professor draws on the board, but also invent your own illustrations of concepts and draw them as part of your notes.
- Be careful about daydreaming in class since your natural tendency is to have visions dancing in your head.
- Study from the notes you've taken, but also consider typing them. Use spreadsheet and presentation software programs to help you organize information visually.
- Use flash cards.
- Use mind maps.
- Develop outlines, charts, tables, and other ways to visually represent concepts to be studied.
- Close your eyes and create mental pictures to remember aspects of reading assignments and lectures.
- Use color-coding in your time-management system and in highlighting reading assignments.
- Annotate as you read, especially using symbols and pictures to help you remember what you read.
- Write or make diagrams for all the steps for activities such as math problems.
- Look for opportunities to supplement the visual aspects of your learning. For example, many classics of literature have been made into films. Look in your campus library for films of the books you read in English and literature classes. Also ask your professors if any films are available about the concepts you're studying in other classes. Look on the Internet at sites such as YouTube for video clips that might enhance your learning.
- Study in an environment with interesting things to look at but without noise interruptions. While a visually stimulating environment would be distracting to some, visual learners may lose focus without the stimulus.
- Use visualization to confront study anxieties and fears. A method known as the swish technique works well for visual learners.
Discover more about learning styles in our article, What's Your Learning Style -- and How Can You Make the Most of It?
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key academic terms by going to our College Success Glossary.
Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for EmpoweringSites.com, including MyCollegeSuccessStory.com. Katharine, who earned her PhD in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, Cincinnati, OH, is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market (both published by Ten Speed Press), as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press); and with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Study Skills (Alpha). She curates, crafts, and delivers compelling content online, in print, on stage, and in the classroom. Visit her personal Website KatharineHansenPhD.com or reach her by e-mail at kathy(at)astoriedcareer.com. Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.