The Theories on Visual Learning

Can you recollect the theories on learning that you worked through in Unit 1.3? Why not refresh your memory by reviewing those theories on behaviourism, cognitism, constructivism as well as the unit on multiple intelligence. All of those theories have great importance to teaching and learning and they have special relevance to visual learning. You would have also gathered value from your reading on Unit 3.1 on Multimedia Education. While the argument that presenting information mediated through multiple media enhances the quality of learning because of its utilisation of a whole range of sensory stimuli, there is also a view that of all the senses, it is the sense of vision that plays the most critical role.

Proponents of learning styles models will argue that teachers should assess the learning styles of students and adapt their classroom methods accordingly. Not surprisingly such an approach has been severely criticised as being not realistic and costly. There is however one school system that takes such an approach seriously. These schools follow a model founded in 1968 in the Sudbury Valley School in Farmingham, Massachusetts ( The Sudbury Valley School practises a form of democratic education in which students individually decide what to do with their time and learn as a by-product of ordinary experience rather than adopting a descriptive educational syllabus or standardised instruction by classes following a prescriptive curriculum. Students have complete responsibility for their own education and the school is run by direct democracy in which students and staff are equals.  Proponents of visual learning have also drawn strength from disciplines other than psychology and pedagogy. Research in neuroscience and behavioural sciences have also helped us understand the way individuals approach learning. John Cuthell sums up all of these in a paper titled Towards a Theory of Visual Learning which I suggest you read before moving forward.

Professor Hans Rosling's demonstration of the hard global statistics on poverty through his fascinating use of visualisation technologies does not require much testimony regarding the value visualisation brings to our appreciation of his thesis on global poverty. There are a number of theories of learning and scientific evidence which is beginning to buttress the argument for greater use of visualisation, especially in presenting complex concepts or data.

Because visual literacy precedes verbal literacy in human development, visual learning is the basic building block in the thought processes and a critical foundation for learning to read and write. Some early studies conducted in the 1970s explain how a child looks and recognises before it can speak. Visual images, such as pictures and photos, are nonverbal representations that precede verbal cues and abstract symbols, such as letters and words. In many ways these are aligned with the constructivism theory of learning where higher thinking skills are built on a solid foundation of concrete learning, which includes experience, environmental stimuli, visual feedback and motor activities. Particularly for young children, multisensory cues that include visual, auditory and tactile cues play critical roles in their learning. Remember, how often you have heard it said that individuals remember only 10% of what they read, 30%, of what they see and 70%, of what they say, see and write. Research consistently shows that people learn best when they are involved in direct, purposeful experiences using multiple intelligences (theory of multiple intelligences). Experiments by others support the importance of imagery in cognitive operation and that recall and recognition is enhanced by presenting information in both visual and verbal form; in other words visual, graphic and auditory cues positively impact cognition. One other theory does not get much attention but also attempts to explain the power of visual stimuli in learning is the theory of situated learning. Simply put the theory contends that the acquisition of knowledge is a result of an activity, the context and the culture in which it occurs. This is different to traditional classroom methods that present knowledge in an abstract  and out of context form.

You will be working through a number of these issues in the rest of the sections in this unit. Before proceeding further carry out Activity 4.1. below.

IDevice Icon Activity 4.1
1. In your own words define the following:
a. Information visualisation
b. Data visualisation

2. Read the article, "Towards a Theory of Visual Learning" by J. Cuthell and respond to the questions below:

a. What is the relationship between on the one hand your sense of seeing and hearing and on the other learning?
b. Why is visual learning considered more powerful than aural learning?

IDevice Icon Reading 4.1

Read a scholarly paper by Elaine Huei-Lien Chen on A Review of Learning Theories from Visual Literacy where Ms. Huei discusses the theories of learning from visuals. In particular she discusses three theories relating to mind and memory that are often discussed in the context of visual learning. As you read pay attention to the three theories which are information processing theory, dual coding theory and multimedia theory.


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