Home Science Communication Visual learning works for me

Visual learning works for me

by Eva Amsen

I’ve taken learning style tests at various points in my learning career, from grade 8 to driving class (which I didn’t take until I was 26) and several times just for fun online. Every single time the result syas that I’m mostly using visual learning, with some kinetic learning, and very little auditory learning.

Here is one where my results was V:46, A:19, K:39 and that’s pretty typical. (You need a calculator or piece of paper or photographic memory to do this. I couldn’t find a good quality VAK test aimed at adults that calculates its own results.)

I have never not taken notes during a lecture, because I’d simply not be able to remember anything if I didn’t. (Wow, four negatives in one sentence. In case you lost track, I said that I took lots of notes to remember things.) There was a guy in my year in undergrad who would just show up, drink an entire bottle of diet coke (diet, because it’s less sticky if you spill it than regular coke), never take notes, and still do well on the exam. And I have no clue how.

If I don’t write things down and organize them in tables and lists, I don’t remember them. If you walk up to me and introduce yourself, I will forget, unless you’re wearing a badge with your name, or give me a card, or if I very quickly write it down or look it up so I can read it. If I can’t write it down, I have to picture how it’s written in my head. When I do forget a word or name, I will often still remember the first letter.

When I was preparing my PhD defense, I was in minor major panic for a couple of weeks, because the exam committee had diverse backgrounds that were all somehow related to genes I mentioned in my thesis, but not very directly to my project. I lost track of how things were related overall, and what could be important to them, so I drew a bunch of things that would help me remember. These are two of them:

I actually drew them mostly by heart, and added nodes and connections as I was going through my pile of papers so that everything was connected and I could see visually what was going on. (The drawing itself was kinetic, my second learning style) Before that, it was in my head as memories of flipping through research papers (still visual, but with the image of what a paper looks like) and I sometimes couldn’t bring up the right paper right away.

With the new system I could conjure up the diagrams in my head, and I was able to answer at least two questions at my defense that I would not have known the answer to if I hadn’t drawn these things. Maybe even more than two, but I can’t remember all the questions they asked me. It was an oral exam, you see.

Related Articles


Jennifer Rohn March 29, 2009 - 2:11 PM

Those sketches are a thing of beauty, Eva. It sounds as if I learn and memorize information in exactly the same way as you, so it’s nice to know I’m not a complete freak!

Kristi Vogel March 29, 2009 - 4:35 PM

For learning and teaching neuroanatomy and gross anatomy, I draw lots of diagrams such as this one:
If I draw them for myself, or on the wipeboard or chalkboard for lab sessions, my diagrams are in color, and the color encodes something about the connections. The diagram above will be photocopied for handouts, so it’s just in pencil. For neuroanatomy lab, I’ll give the students a handout with outlines of brain sections, but then they have to draw the neurons, axons, and targets, and write the names of pathways and nuclei. I draw the pathways while I’m talking, so I don’t get ahead of the students.

Eva Amsen March 29, 2009 - 4:56 PM

That looks cool, Kristi!
I also keep seeing “this series of colouring books”:http://www.amazon.com/Anatomy-Coloring-Book-Wynn-Kapit/dp/0805350861/ in a store near me and am always very close to buying one, just for fun.

Kristi Vogel March 29, 2009 - 5:07 PM

Eva, our students have a coloring book option in their lab manuals as well – there are photos of a series of brainstem sections, and instructions to color the various tracts and nuclei in a given pathway. I did this exercise to review the material, when I first started teaching it.

Comments are closed.