There are many misconceptions about visual-spatial learning. In the past few decades little attention has been paid to visual-spatial learning, especially in education. These last few years, however, there has been a change. More scientific research has been done into the workings of the brain and our memory. It has proved that not everybody gathers and processes information in the same way.
Preference of the brain
At birth every human being is a 100% visual-spatial learner. Indeed, a baby does not yet know any words or sentences (word images). It only sees images, it uses their senses (see, feel, hear, smell, taste and experience).
Growing up, children learn how to speak. Sounds are linked to images. The chair you sit on is related to the sounds for ‘ch-ai-r’. Verbal thinking is a learning process.
During their infant years people develop a clear preference for a visual (visual-spatial learning) or a verbal approach (auditory-sequential learning). This preference will remain unaltered during their lives and has an influence on their way of thinking, learning and working.
Up to the age of 12 a child develops the verbal way of thinking. Then there is a balance and the child can use both ways: the visual-spatial and the verbal way of thinking and learning. Research (in the Netherlands) indicates that 10 – 15% of the children that age lack sufficient verbal abilities. Reasons: dyslexia, low/high cognition, concentration problemens (AD(H)D), bad education etc.If a child doesn`t develop a balance between his visual and verbal way of information processing, school can become a problem!
Visual-spatial thinking is a general learning style with a preference for images.
Visual-spatial learners gather and process information quickly, by way of associations, creatively and they are whole-part/ holistic learners. They have an overview, work using insight and easily fathom complicated problems.
Verbal thinking is an analytic, auditory-sequential learning style with a preference for language.
Language learners acquire and process information in serial form, analytically, and from the core. They are focused on detail and work in a structured way. This way of thinking conforms with our auditory-sequential education system.
That visual-spatial learning is diametrically opposed to auditory-sequential teaching has been experienced as a problem by both educators and visual-spatial learners themselves. Bright, motivated children drop out without a diploma after years of frustration at school and nevertheless manage to create their own careers using their own talents. Dedicated teachers feel more and more frustrated because they cannot get a grip on this group of students. ‘He should be able to succeed, but somehow he does not.’
In business there is a great need of creative, visual-spatial learners who are focused on solutions and are able to see the big picture. Unfortunately, this group does not always get the chance to show their abilities on account of the auditory-sequential structure of large companies and their rigid rules. Within education and business, the awareness that both ways of learning are complementary is gaining ground: auditory-sequential and visual-spatial learning need each other.
Visual or verbal preference?
Just imagine hearing the word ‘tree’. In your imagination a tree could pop up in your mind’s eye: large, stately and full of leaves. Or the letters of the word tree (t-r-ee) might spring to mind. Two totally different ways of learning are used on hearing the same word.
A great number of people mainly think verbally. That is, in language (words and sentences). The images that they see are subordinated to the language (word images) of thought. This mode of thought can be called ‘auditory-sequential learning’, the verbal learning system.
However, there are others who do not use language (words and sentences) as a language of thought initially: they think in images, in a non-verbal way. Remember the tree in the example above. This non-verbal learning style is called ‘visual-spatial learning’.
Visual-spatial learning means learning in images and events, without the use of words and phrases. It may be described as spatial learning. Visual-spatial learners see images of situations and events in which several aspects become visible simultaneously. Accordingly, visual-spatial learners will see things as a whole and discover a solution very rapidly. Putting the solution into words, however, proves to be the problem.
Time and Sequence
Visual-spatial learners experience problems when processing sequential information (time and sequence). They prefer processing information simultaneously. In our education system emphasis is put on sequential information processing (reading, spelling, algorithms and procedures in maths).
In year 2 children who are visual-spatial learners already stand out in this process. They do not see and hear the words in separate letters but see the images (three-dimensional) that tell them what a word means. They do not remember what they see in a word (the letters, the spelling), but they remember what they know about it (experience, feeling). For them the image is sufficient.
Visual-spatial learners look for resemblances. They add new information to what they already know or have experienced. In their minds there is, as it were, a coat stand with frames of reference to which new things are attached. The image in their mind will be enlarged and become more complicated and ….. more chaotic. It is not really well-structured. New information will be more easily remembered if a resemblance is found to previous experiences and/or knowledge.
Visual-spatial learners may get disoriented because of their learning style: they do not see what they are looking at, but they see what they think. Disorientation is caused by the fact that they think using all their senses. They see, hear and feel what they think. That is why they might experience what is going on in their minds as reality.
By using disorientation visual-spatial learners can observe the things in their mind in a three-dimensional way. They are capable of observing their thoughts from all angles. That is why their spatial perception is so good. They are able to experience things in their thoughts and by doing so get an insight into things that auditory-sequential learners cannot understand. One of the problems that might be caused by disorientation is impulsive and hyperactive behaviour.