Reaching Visual Learners Through Whiteboard

Accepting the framework of developmental psychologist Howard Gardner, Whitby blogger Sarah Mead identifies seven styles of learning, and points out that “Education has traditionally been focused around linguistic and logical-mathematical learning styles,” while underserving those who learn differently.  The other five of Gardner’s styles include auditory, visual, kinesthetic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal.

Let’s focus on the often-overlooked visual learning style, and how whiteboard can make great strides in facilitating the learning of visual learners.  Mead provides us a good definition of the visual learner: “[they] learn best when their sense of sight is engaged… they are engaged by bright colors and clear diagrams and can learn from videos, demonstrations, and classroom handouts.”

Mead notes that visual learning “most closely conforms to traditional classroom teaching methods” when compared to auditory or kinesthetic learners.  She describes visual learners as enthusiastic about drawing and painting as well as storytelling, and frequently ask instructors to “Show me” when trying to learn something new.

By contrast, kinesthetic learners prefer tactile experiences, movement, and motion, and learn best when they can directly touch and interact with the materials at hand.  Auditory learners learn best through spoken instruction and repeating ideas verbally, and benefit from musical mnemonic tools and reading out loud.

For visual learners, many of the tools of traditional education work very well.  Highlighters, flashcards, and other learning aids mesh well with their visual orientation.  Interestingly, “a small white board to create quick concept questions” is also one of Mead’s suggested tools.

Karina Richland also describes the visual learner as one who “likes drawing, doodling, making posters and using colors to think rather than using words.”  Certainly, having a whiteboard for a visual learner makes more and more sense as these preferences are teased out.

We can then take a short leap to a great approach to reaching visual learners: whiteboard video.  Whiteboard video’s simple, lighthearted designs are perfect for learners, as each image is carefully concepted and drawn to be both a reinforcement of the spoken message, and an easily understood representation of that message.

Auditory information reinforced through imagery is a strong way to meet visual learners where they are.  The simplicity-by-design ensures that visual learners are drawn in quickly to important concepts in their lesson, and also ensures that the visuals do not override those concepts. 

In other words, as we know from neuroscience that the brain prefers visual information over auditory information (and that this is especially true of visual learners), whiteboard visuals are concepted to be engaging but not so absorbing that learners cease to connect with your spoken message.  They’re not highly complex, engrossing images, but instead simple and numerous, synchronizing with your narration for the highest rates of engagement and retention.

Richland’s discussion of color in the mind of the visual learner is also highly relevant to strong whiteboard video.  Well-designed whiteboard utilizes the principle of accent color as a focal tool and maintainer of engagement.  The use of a single color means its use will always have thematic import, and will certainly pull the eye of the visual learner to the vital parts of the frame.

Much of the accent color’s value in a visual learning context comes from the principle’s restraint.  While whiteboard frames could be filled with rainbows of color—and to some extent, this might be the ‘most exciting’ option for a young visual learner—the use of only one guarantees the best results. 

Like the complex images whiteboard also avoids, overuse of color can cause the learner’s mind to ignore your spoken message.  With one accent color, it will increase retention rates, doubly underscoring the importance of key visuals that reinforce your key lessons.

The accent color is the whiteboard video equivalent, in many ways, of a technique that visual learners are encouraged to utilize by ShowMe Images in their piece “Getting to Know Visual Learners,” which is to “highlight important words in color.”  The audio-visual synchronization also gets at the heart of “connect[ing] new information with concepts you already know so you understand topics as a whole.”

Whiteboard video clearly checks box after box on great ways to reach visual learners—but Mead has given us one additional way to make a truly fantastic learning method for visual learners.  Present them with their own whiteboards and markers, to be used while (and after) they watch a whiteboard video.

With the design principles of whiteboard video in place to maximize engagement and retention, adding the participatory student whiteboard element is a great way to allow learners to make their own visual notes and ideas on the subject.  Visual learners, as we’ve learned, are hardly passive consumers of information, just because they’re not as physically experimental as a kinesthetic learner.  They love to create their own imagery, draw, paint, and write.

And, bringing things full-circle, a learner taking advantage of their own hand-held whiteboard can see themselves in the artist’s hand in the video.  This might be a more abstract connection, but just consider how many times a day a learner (particularly a younger learner) has an opportunity to feel on equal footing with the information they’re expected to understand. 

A visual learner, holding a whiteboard that allows them to create their own imagery, learns and gains validation in their processes when learning with whiteboard video.  There’s a power to knowing that you too can communicate visually, on important topics—whiteboard video shows visual learners that not only is their learning style natural, it’s one they can participate in as they continue to learn and grow.

Visual learners are fortunate, in that many of the tools of ‘traditional’ education fit their needs quite well.  Of course, we should not stop trying to improve methods to reach and teach visual learners.  Whiteboard video is ideal for visual learners, and combined with some research on other visual learning aids like personal whiteboards, it can become even more effective.

How does your classroom break down in terms of learning styles?  Do you struggle to find an approach that fits all of your students, and if not, how have you addressed the presence of different learning styles?  Do you already utilize video in the classroom, and how might whiteboard change your approach?