Learning Activities for Visual Learners
Posted by Robin Petterd on 9 February 2009
Recently, I’ve see some learning designers who are 100% word people have trouble grasping what means to be a visual learner. Often when we think about visual learners, we think: “Oh, they will need pictures and diagrams.” This is a good start . . . if your learning design is an information dump. What about when it comes to assessment tasks or learning tasks? What sort of things could work for visual learners?
Well, think of “visual learners” as code for “we hate writing and reading.”
This is not much of a problem when your learners need to just follow processes. But when your learners need to analyze, reflect, compare, create, and generally thinking at a higher level, it’s a bit more difficult. It can be done. In situations like thinking at art school where visual literacy is high, it’s a given: most evidence is a visual portfolio. In that environment, the “outsiders” are the people who can articulate their thoughts well in words.
Here are some suggestions for learning activities for visual thinkers with links to useful books, tools, and websites at the end.
Photo essays are simply sequences of photos. With photo essays, I don’t mean the combinations of images and voiceovers that have become known as “Photo Stories.” What I mean is just simple sequences of images. The camera phones in our pockets give us powerful storytelling tools. A great use of a photo essay could be to compare and contrast aspects of a workplace, or a visual diary.
A mindmap is one of the “classics” of visual thinking. I’ve often assumed that most people have seen mindmaps and understand what they are. If you have never seen one, they start with a central word or images and then lines are drawn that branch out from the central word These lines then branch out into more and more detail. Most of the time when we are thinking about getting our learners to write they could be making a mindmap.
Flowcharts are one of the underused types of diagrams in learning. I was even told by reviewers of learning recently that flowcharts were unsuitable for use in eLearning. Often flowcharts are used when processes or sequences of activities need to be explained. Flowcharts work really well when a learning needs to explain what is happening in the workplace or when decisions need to made. Developing a flowchart could be great when a learner then has to synthesize new knowledge and understanding.
Technically, mindmaps and flowcharts are types of diagrams, and the use of a diagram in learning is a huge area. Visual thinkers often just have trouble organizing thoughts into paragraphs and logic essays. This where diagrams can be useful, as a way to organize words. An example is when a comparison needs to be made: this could be just two boxes side by side with dot points in each box.
Now you might be thinking (or might be drawing by this stage) the following:
“Well, this all right for face-to-face learning where I could collect pieces of paper. Online images are hard. The online environment is about text and words, and our Learning Management System works only with text documents.”
There are a number of great free and online tools listed below that make producing these sorts of visuals achievable for everyone. What is more of a concern is the assumption that most Learning Management Systems work only with text documents. Most of the assignment tools in Learning Management Systems support the uploading of files; there is an assumption that these files have to be text documents. Actually, the files could just as easily be image files. Maybe the learner could even do the assignment on pencil and paper and take a photo with a phone and just send the assignment to you.
Here are links to useful resources.
A good book to read is The Back of the Nakin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures
Freemind is a great piece with free software for mindmapping.
To learn more about mindmapping, Tony Buzan’s site is a good place to start .
Gliffy is an online diagramming system that is great for making flowcharts and diagrams.
ExploraTree is a series of online thinking tools . I’ll write more about this in future blog posts.