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Are you a visual learner?

Are you actually a visual learner?

We hear this phrase a lot. People will describe themselves as visual learners. Here I’d like to explore what a person means and what it means to me as a behavioral optometrist.

When someone identifies themselves as visual, they mean to say that they like a picture to reference, or like someone to show them how to do a task as in on the job training. As a behavioral optometrist this clue tells me something else about the way the person thinks, or how they learn and possibly their binocular vision function.

If you prefer a picture or need a picture made for you instead of readily making pictures in your head say from words read from a page, then you may not in fact be a visual learner. On the contrary, you likely use auditory or verbal stimuli as your primary source of information in the brain. When you learn something with auditory or verbal skills there are a few factors that make it less effective, less efficient, more difficult to recall, and further more difficult to manipulate once remembered.

Here’s an example, taught to me by a colleague. If I were to ask you “ what is the number, 3 before 97?” What might your answer be? Furthermore, how did you get your answer? Ponder this question and how many ways you can get to the answer. You are being asked a math question. To solve it, you did not have to begin at 1, nor 90, and there were several ways to do this “in your head” as you visualized a math problem, or you simply counted down the 3 digits, or maybe you pictured a number line, or maybe you are so efficient at this visual task, you don’t even know the way in which you arrived at your accurate answer, you simply just got there. That is because math is visual and spatial. We learn math visually, with graphs, shapes, and symbols. We memorize facts, and are able to manipulate those pictures easily.

Now let’s compare to another proposed question: What is the letter 3 before J in the alphabet? How do you get to this answer? Is it easier or more difficult than the math question? Did you find yourself singing to yourself? Did you get the correct answer? How much more time did it take you to get to the answer and how confident are you that it is correct? The difference here is that we have all learned the alphabet the same way and it is stored as auditory/verbal information. It is a song. Yes, we can remember songs and we do not need a picture of them to recall the song. Yet, when we try to manipulate the information, it is much more difficult. Most of us find ourselves starting at the beginning and trying to intuitively feel if we are 3 characters away from J.

My point here is that visual learners, we are. We ALL are. At least, that is the most efficient way to learn and learn long term. Memories of visual pictures stay with us long after we have studied them, and long after the test. Auditory memories are more difficult to manipulate and many times are literally in one ear and out the other. They do not stick with us like a picture does. In this way, if you can easily make your own pictures from symbols on a page, rather than needing someone to show you how, or show you the way, one might say you would be able to learn many complex tasks independently and with less time.

Many of our students in Vision Therapy at Focus Eyecare, have difficulty with this type of task. The good news is that we have well established treatment plans to train this behavior and improve visualization skills.

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