What is Visual Learning? Identifying and Understanding the Benefits of Visual Learning

Humans are visual creatures.

Going back a bit in time, vision was important to us on the African savanna to recognize predators and find food.

And although today most of us spend less time dodging leopards than our ancestors might have, it’s easy enough to see the importance of vision in our lives. How long do you go without watching a movie at the cinema, viewing a film on Netflix, or playing a video game? Or even consider music–don’t you often experience music in a music video, or while watching a stage full of dancers?

Why are so many of the dominant forms of entertainment visually oriented? Because, to return to our beginning, humans are visual creatures.

And so it makes a lot of sense to take advantage of that for workforce learning and development.

We’ll discuss this a bit in this blog post.

Visuals, Dual-Channel Coding, and the Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning

The Dual-Channel Theory, established by Allen Paivio, states that humans process verbal information (spoken words and sounds) through a different processing channel that we process visual images (the “real world” around us, pictures, written text, etc.).

Using that as a foundation, the Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning, established by Richard Mayer, makes three points (source for list below):

  1. There are two separate channels (auditory and visual) for processing information (sometimes referred to as Dual-Coding theory);
  2. Each channel has a limited (finite) capacity (similar to Sweller’s notion of Cognitive Load);
  3. Learning is an active process of filtering, selecting, organizing, and integrating information based upon prior knowledge.

So there are a few key takeaways from all this about visuals in eLearning courses for workforce training:

  1. eLearning courses that make use of visuals and audio can increase learning effectiveness
  2. Because each of those processing channels has a limited capacity and can be overwhelmed, that blend of audio and visuals in an eLearning course must be designed well
  3. eLearning designers need to do what they can to increase the odds that important information will “make it through” the brain’s filtering and selecting processes
  4. eLearning must also do what they can to help learners organization information and integrate it with prior knowledge

When all this is done well, the combination of verbal and visual information in an workforce training eLearning course, processed by two separate processing channels, helps people learn more at work. What’s not to like?

Imagine how the visuals in this sample video would make it easier for people to learn.

Let us know if you have questions about eLearning and visual design. We’ve got quite a few articles on the topic if you’d like to take a deep dive on the issue:

25 Graphic Design Tips for eLearning
How to Create Graphics for eLearning

And don’t forget to download the free guide below, too.

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Blended Learning Beginner’s Guide

Learn the importance of using differing training delivery methods and get some tips for selecting the right training method for each training need.

Download Free Guide

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