A lot of research points to the fact that people learn best when more than one sensory input is utilized. The more types of inputs, the better the learning. For example, if you take one group of people and teach them by telling them (so they utilize their hearing), take another group and teach them by showing them (so they utilize their sight), and take another group and teach by using both means (hearing and sight), the third group that was taught using both senses will always learn better than the groups who receive the information through just one sense. If you can throw in yet one more sense, let’s say the sense of touch, learning increases even more.
So what does this mean for the self-educator? When you’re trying to learn something, see if you can engage more than one of your senses in the process. This will improve the effectiveness of your learning. Sight, hearing, touch and, perhaps less often, smell should be combined to make the learning experience as robust as possible.
Also, people learn better from words and pictures than from words alone. So try to access visual images to support your learning along with any reading you’re doing. When images and words are presented simultaneously rather than successively the learning is improved. So as you read and reference images consider going back and forth between them to have each support the other in the learning process.
When you are trying to use various senses as you learn, remember also that research shows that vision (sight) trumps all other senses when it comes to learning. The more visual you can make what you’re learning, the better the learning that takes place. As an example, if information is presented to people verbally, they will remember about 10 percent of what they were told. However, if you add in an illustrative picture to accompany the verbal information, the people will remember about 65 percent. That’s an amazing difference. So leverage visual images as much as you can when learning.
The incredibly effective nature of visual images is also why I consider image creation literacy to be an important part of the communication skill set needed today. It’s not just important to be able to communicate well with the written and spoken word, but to also have the skills to create at least basic visuals and images to illustrate what it is you are trying to communicate. And the drawings or images you create don’t need to be complex. Research has shown that simple or rough images are quite good at communicating information, and are sometimes superior to more complex or lifelike images that can distract from the learning.
So along with honing your writing and speaking skills, consider learning some basic graphic design, videography and other visual imagery development skills as well. It will serve you very well in life if you have these skills.