It’s All About the Optics

We are all becoming visual learners, thanks to our fire-hosing ourselves with multimedia on our phones and every other medium we’re absorbed in. The Economist says we’re contending with five times the volume of information that we did in 1983. Maybe that’s forced a re-wiring of our brains to adapt to this inundation, and we’ve streamlined our intake by preferring images and video over text. Images are a lot easier, a lot more efficient (each picture being worth the customary thousand words) and maybe it even makes sense. I remember a study from several years ago that said that people learned several times as much from 15 minutes spent watching a video (about whatever it was) as they did spending the same 15 minutes reading about it.

I think that images are more important to learning than most of us realize. Try to think of something (anything)… without there being a mental image attached to it. You can’t do it. There has to be a mental image in order for a topic of thought to be generated, and for that topic to be recallable. (If it cannot be recalled, it is forgotten.) In order to generate and retain learning, there has to be images. No images, no learning.

The learning that best sticks to the ribs is that which is relevant to the learner’s interests. What the learner wants to know may be quite different from what he needs to know. (What he needs to know, for example, could be whatever he needs to know in order to pass a required course that he may not have much interest in.) What he learns for that purpose is parked somewhere temporary, and then fades away once the purpose is served. But what they want to learn takes root and grows.

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