Most of us have a preferred learning modality — a sensory learning style that is most comfortable for us. Traditional estimates say that about 65% of Americans are most comfortable with visual learning, 5% are kinesthetic or hands-on learners, and the rest rely most on auditory information.
You can quickly determine which modality is dominant for you by thinking about your preferences when you have a choice of modality.
- If your phone rings early in the morning, do you put on your glasses before you answer it? You’re probably a visual learner.
- Do you let Siri tell you where to turn, or do you follow your GPS with a map — or do you like a paper map so you can follow the route with your finger?
- Do you need to doodle or take notes during a meeting or a lecture in order to stay focused and remember what you hear? You may be a kinesthetic learner.
- Do you prefer to watch videos or listen to podcasts?
- All things being equal, do you prefer Go to Meeting (visual) or a conference call (auditory)?
What’s the science on this? It has been a popular concept for about a century, and is often referenced in the quotation, “I hear and I’ll forget. I see and l remember. I do and I understand,” which is most often attributed to Benjamin Franklin or an ancient Chinese proverb, depending who you ask. In the late 20th century, learning modalities became very trendy in classroom and corporate training. A few controlled studies were undertaken and found that matching training methods to preferred learning modality had no measurable impact on how well people learned. This did not stop people from believing in it.
Two things seem to be true about learning modalities:
- When people are under stress, they become more reliant on their preferred learning modality, whether they’re learning anything or not. Auditory learners may talk themselves through the steps of a difficult task, for example, and visual learners may draw a chart when they have a difficult problem to solve.
- Everyone seems to get information better when it’s presented with more than one sensory channel. That is, while auditory learners don’t seem to learn better from a lecture than from a book, people who get a lecture and a book learn better than those who only get one or the other.
Recently, we’ve been hearing the interesting claim that “we are becoming more visual.” If most of us were already visual learners and this is hard-wired, as proponents claim, it’s hard to see how we could become more visual. What’s more, the claim is often made to support, say, using an infographic instead of a paragraph — even though our interactions with both infographics and paragraphs are primarily visual, and many infographics include a great deal of text. So are we becoming more visual?
What we usually mean when we say that we’re becoming more visual is that people like to look at pictures, infographics, videos, and such, that this visual content is easier to grasp quickly on our phones, and that it is now so easy to add this type of visual content to our social media that we’re all doing it.
What does this have to do with your website?
Well, hey, people like pictures! Use them. Also pay attention to colors, typography, and the overall look of your design. People may not be any more visual than they ever were, but they’ve always liked to look at nice things, and now they want to be able to pin them, too.
Remember that search engines don’t like pictures, videos, and infographics nearly as much as people do. Remember also that people still read. Even those who skim in search of the answer to a specific question rather than settling down to read your entire page must have all the content there to skim so they can find the bits they want to read.
That is, your website shouldn’t be either/or text and graphics. You need both. Offering multimedia such as videos and podcasts is also a good idea. In this case, science stands behind offering information through a variety of channels.
Find more education infographics on e-Learning Infographics