Research has found that everybody is unique in how they learn best. We all have different strengths, talents, challenges, and ways of doing things. And learning is no different. Some people thrive in structured environments, others do best when they can go with the flow. There are students who learn best from books, from listening, from watching, from doing, or from discovering. You might gain knowledge best when working independently or while working collaboratively in a group.
It all depends on your learning style. In fact, there are learning styles that describe how different people typically learn best. One of these is the visual learning style. Visual learners acquire knowledge more effectively via visual instruction, as in what they can see and observe rather than through other methods, such as listening or doing.
In this comprehensive guide to the visual learning style, learn more about the visual learning style, common traits of visual learners, and strategies teachers and students can use to maximize the academic experience for visual learners.
Teaching and learning work best when tailored to the specific needs—and learning style—of each student. This can be a challenging prospect, but once you understand the various ways different people process and understand information, it becomes much easier. Here, we take a deep dive into what visual learning is all about—and explore how to best support those learners.
What Is a Learning Style?
Before we examine what being a visual learner means, let’s look at what learning styles are, to begin with.
Learning styles are the ways different people learn best. There are a range of theories about how learning styles work and how to define them. Some researchers have developed theories using more or fewer categories. But typically, they are separated into anywhere from four to seven or even 12 different types of learners.
The general idea is that instruction delivered in different ways (such as via a presentation, written material, or a hands-on activity) will be received differently by different students. Each person may be more or less receptive to various teaching techniques.
Some examples of other learning styles are kinesthetic (movement), auditory, social, verbal, mathematical, logical, or solitary. Note that people don’t only learn from one teaching method, but one or more learning styles just may be more favorable than the others in terms of a student’s comprehension and information retention.
What is a visual learner?
Visual learners learn best instructed using visual methods of teaching. Essentially, this means when information is presented via reading, visual aids, or videos. They learn and remember best when they “see” the content they are studying. They may picture what they are learning about in their heads.
Visual learners may also learn things well using other teaching methods but they enjoy or are more successful when information is offered visually.
Traits of Visual Learners
Visual learners share specific traits that make visual information more appealing to and effective for them. These characteristics include the following.
Reading to learn
They remember what they read better than what they hear. Visual learners are readers, contemplative thinkers, and observers.
They use diagrams, maps, pictures, and charts to understand ideas and concepts.
Visual learners tend to write down what they are learning, a practice that can help them retain the information they are hearing.
Strengths of Visual Learners
Visual learners have many strengths. And typically, many classroom settings use many visual learning techniques, so they tend to do well in school and on tests. Some research says they will, on average, retain around 75% of what they read.
So, reading (or other modes of seeing, such as via observing or watching) information is a highly effective way for these students to learn. They also tend to be good readers and enjoy books. They are good at reading and understanding maps, diagrams, charts, and other visual tools. They also tend to like order and to keep things tidy.
Visual Learning Strategies for Students
The good news for students who are visual learners is that schools, classrooms, and curricula tend to be organized in their favor. Often, schoolwork is delivered via written texts or pictures, or at the very least, related visual aids tend to be easily accessible. In other words, if the information is unclear, you can usually find something to read or look at that will help it make sense.
If your class is primarily in lecture (or any other) form, taking notes, drawing pictures, creating summaries, and making to-do lists can help you turn the auditory information into something you can see—and make sense of. You will remember best via sight so give yourself lots of visuals to look at and remember.
Simply being aware that you are a visual learner can help you, too. This is because then you can know to ask your teacher for information in written form, as needed.
Visual learners tend to have excellent memories and observation skills. Writing down your goals and organizing your thoughts and observations in written form will enhance these skills—and help make other teaching styles more effective for you.
Study tips for visual learners
Some tips for effective studying for visual learners include the following:
- Take and review notes
- Read all handouts, books, and other class materials
- Ask for written material to support lessons if not provided
- Review the table of contents and headings on all reading materials and/or the course syllabus
- Use highlighters to mark the most important items to remember
- Use other visual sources, such as maps, diagrams, pictures, graphs, and charts
Visual Learning Strategies for Teachers
Teachers can help support a visual learner by offering lots of visual aids to communicate ideas and information to these students. Aim to provide visual stimulation to keep visual learners engaged. Written texts, pictures, charts, graphs, maps, and other visual information helps these students learn, comprehend, and remember more effectively.
Encourage note-taking, particularly during times when non-visual teaching methods are being used. Offer written material, such as an outline of a lecture, diagrams, or a handout that covers the essential points, in tandem with other forms of instruction to help support the learning of more visually-inclined students.
For complex topics delivered orally, break the subject down into smaller sections, a technique called microlearning. Provide written or visual companion handouts to reinforce the information for visual learners.
Another helpful technique is called timeboxing, in which you dedicate a fixed amount of time for each activity. This method is helpful for visual learners who tend to do best when they know the parameters (as in length of time and other variables) of each lesson.
What Type of Person Is a Visual Learner?
Visual learners are smart, organized, and neat. They tend to love reading and have analytical minds. They like to watch and observe and may be relatively internal. They read the expressions and body language of others well and also communicate effectively with their own faces and bodies.
They tend to have vivid, creative imaginations. They also typically have good motivation and study habits for schoolwork, especially when it can be accessed through visual materials.
What is a visual learner example?
The most obvious example of a visual learner is someone who likes to read and absorb information by looking at it rather than by listening to it. These learners also prefer taking things in visually rather than through hands-on experiences.
Another indicator that someone is a visual learner is if they are good at interpreting maps, diagrams, or charts. Visual learners can also learn well via movies or videos, particularly if the information is shown visually on screen rather than relying just on talking.
Visual learners thrive when information is given to them visually. They can have difficulty with following directions, retaining information, and comprehension when information is presented orally or in a hands-on manner. However, using various strategies, such as note-taking and offering handouts and other visual materials to reinforce lessons, can help visual learners succeed.