Visual methods of learning in the digital age

By Matt Pierce, Learning & Video Ambassador, TechSmith

In today’s always-on world, the communication methods at our disposal sometimes can be overwhelming. We receive DMs, voicemails, texts, and emails, and it’s often acceptable to choose to reply by a totally different channel such as WhatsApp.  

This is how many of us and our students communicate and learn from peers socially, but what about in the classroom? How can we better help students learn and retain information? The truth is, the education system still relies heavily on traditional methods. 

With the growing popularity of video across YouTube and social platforms such as Instagram, and the rise in use of communication portals like Facebook Messenger, both teacher and student are becoming more accustomed to absorbing information visually than ever before. By encouraging a more colourful communication culture within the education system it can provide significant advantages for students now, and help equip them with the right skills as they move towards their futures.

The evidence 

Recent global research, The Value of Visualslooked at how people consume and retain information and it may come as no surprise that younger generations are twice as likely to want more visual content, such as video, screen grabs and images. We know that plain-text communications leave millennials and Generation Z less than inspired, so we need to set the scene now for the yet-to-be-named next generation. 

The research found that:

  • 53% find it easier to access learning materials if presented visually
  • 53% want more video learning

The research focused on adults in the working environment, but it showed that, no matter the age of the person tested, visual content helped them work better. It demonstrates the importance of visual aids such as video to support engagement with learning, regardless of age. This could be particularly helpful to support uptake of subjects such as economics — which has been widely reported as being on the decline as an A-Level choice in recent years.

Tim Phillips, Author, Journalist and Editor of The CORE Project — which is intended to bring new ideas to the way in which economics is taught — supports the findings and the call to use more visual methods, such as video, in education. Tim said, “When teaching economics there are a lot of skills and techniques that students need to understand. Traditional teaching methods can be very dry, and so are hard for them to follow. I’m a big fan of using video to pass on these skills, which feels natural for students and is easier for them to grasp. Video is more creative, the content is much more memorable, and it is easy to bookmark and share.”

Engaging the brain 

The scientific element of the research project looked at how the brain responds to different communications. The study tested accuracy, speed and understanding when processing information. A leading doctor in behavioral economics monitored participants on their completion of three everyday office-based tasks. For each task, he tested how using visual and non-visual communication methods affected understanding, recall, and speed.

The results showed that: 

  • 67% of people perform better when communicated with visually compared to text alone. 
  • Not only do they absorb the information better, they also do so 7% faster. 
  • Visual content also increases comprehension: using text coupled with visuals instead of text alone increases accuracy by 8%, and using video rather than text increases accuracy by 6%.

Outside the classroom students create and share short videos share tips, ‘hacks’ and ‘how-to’ videos amongst friends and online. They relish the engagement and we should be embracing this in the classroom too. 

The research also showed that visuals prompt a deeper level of understanding and engagement, proving humans react to visual stimuli regardless of the situation or age. We will always have a more visceral reaction to visuals than text. 

What does the future hold? 

Whether we like it or not, students’ — our future workforce — expectations have been raised, assuming a level of excitement and interest in communication methods to enhance overall experience. The way forward isn’t to continue in the monochrome world of text.  

At a time when resources are stretched and pressures of getting through the curriculum can pile up, there are simple steps schools, colleges and universities could take to adopt a more visual learning environment to best support their students. 

  • Have a think about small changes you can make in the classroom and experiment with more short videos.
  • Consider upskilling yourself and testing out the benefits of new visual technology software.
  • Embrace animated GIFs: GIFs are certainly here to stay and are quickly becoming a mainstay in the way the younger generations communicate with each other. A picture paints a thousand words, right? So can a simple GIF. For a quick and simple way to show how to do something or work something out, GIFs are ideal as they autoplay over and over again.