Visual Learners: Show Me, and I Will Know!

Let me share this learner style with you from personal experience.  I have taught strongly visual learners in the past, and had to learn a lot before I overcame my frustration with them.  (I’m dominantly an auditory learner, though I do have a fair bit of visual and kinaesthetic styles mixed in!)  It was a visual learner who taught me a great deal about cognitive development and learning styles.

This student was bright.  He had a probing, analytical mind and was remarkably observant. But somehow, he was just not a good student.  He got easily distracted, dawdled on all his work (except what he was interested in), and seemed to depend heavily on my prompting to be able to complete his work (low confidence).


As I observed my visual learner, I found out several things.  He seemed to need something to prime his brain before he could start thinking.  Accordingly, I would begin class with games, reviews, speed drills… anything that would “get the blood flowing up there,” as I often joked with him.  As long as he was not thinking, class time crawled by.  He often gave me faraway looks that told me he hadn’t heard my thrice-repeated instructionsGrrrrrrr!!

However, once I had broken the process down into concrete steps and written them down clearly, he took off on his own.  (He never really seemed to need his teacher to talk much!)  He would solve problems in his head, and give me only the answer on paper.  You know that doesn’t work for math assessments, don’t you?  That became one of my greatest frustrations.  “Why can’t you just show me the steps?!”


My student also never listened visual stimulation vs auditory explanationto long explanations, especially if I did not have graphics for him.  Yet, strangely enough, if I gave him a graphic without any explanation, he could usually figure it out on his own!  For example, he would get dreadfully bored (and let me know it too!) if I were to detail the passage of blood through the human heart, and he’d learn very little besides.  However, if I gave him a diagram and let him study it quietly, he would be able to tell me the sequence of blood flow with a great deal of accuracy afterwards.


visual learners n the time factorI also found out that visual learners are more work-oriented than they are time-oriented.  What do I mean?  They focus on their work at hand and have a poor sense of time.  This makes them wonderful workers, who always (and that’s not quite an exaggeration) turn out complete, thorough work; but it is the spoiler on timed exams.

My student used to make terrible grades on his semester assessments.  Naturally, I was horrified that all my effort in teaching him the past year could return only such dismal results.  Hadn’t he learned anything?  When I examined his tests, though, it quickly became evident that he was losing out because he ran out of time, and not because he did not know how to do the test.  So one day, I removed the time factor.  I said, “OK, let’s see how well you can do if I don’t time you.  Go ahead, take as much time as you need, and work the paper to your satisfaction.”  His grades immediately shot up; I got the message.

Does that mean that visual learners can never work fast?  No.  But it does mean that they should not be expected to manage time the way other learners (especially auditory learners) are able to.  They need help to be time-conscious, because it doesn’t come naturally to them.  One way to do that is to write down the tasks at hand with a specific, reasonable time slot beside each one:  Spelling list, 20 minutes; Math exercise A, 15 minutes.


My visual learner used to be written off as slow and lazy.  I too, thought so myself… that is, until I began to see where his strengths lay, and how to capitalize on them to help him learn effectively.

Visual learners sometimes appear less bright than timed tests show them to be.  But look beneath the surface, and you will find a bright, very analytical, observant mind with an amazing capacity for visual memory.  Whenever possible, convert information into visual form (picture note-taking, review drill cards with spelling words written on them, etc).  It will greatly help your visual learner.  The better they can see it in their minds, the better they will learn it.

Remember, a picture is worth a thousand words! Thank you for reading!

Coming up next: Auditory Learners:  Hear and Tell


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