I listened intently to the sermon on First John, wishing for the third consecutive Sunday that our pastor put a more detailed outline on the PowerPoint. My mind kept getting lost in the “transcription” process as I mentally tried to picture the words of the sermon as I heard them. By the end of the service, I promised myself that next Sunday I would take notes so perhaps I could actually remember the main points of the message.
I never really understood that I was a visual learner until I reached high school. Growing up, I read voraciously, and I loved my schoolbooks. During tests, I would try to visualize the page or paragraph that corresponded to particular questions.
On a road trip with my cousin Abbie, I expressed my frustration with my poor auditory learning capabilities. As a preschool teacher, Abbie had firsthand experience with varied learning types; she had to discover whether her students learned best by sound, touch, or sight. Abbie herself is a visual learner, so we commiserated with each other about all the teachers and pastors and speakers in the world who forget to cater to the visual learners in their audiences.
For me, being a visual learner means that I think in words and pictures. When I talk, I picture the words I’m saying. When someone gives me directions, I ask them to write down street names, otherwise information is far too likely to get lost in my ear canals. I enjoy listening to audio books, but if I haven’t read the story before, I usually replay the audio multiple times before I retain much more of the storyline than who marries or dies by the final chapter.
Some well-rounded individuals are blessed enough to benefit equally from all three learning methods. The rest of us, however, have picky brains with definite learning preferences. My right arm stays stronger than my left — no matter how many extra bicep curls I attempt — simply because it is my dominant arm. In this same way, I practice listening to lectures instead of reading them, but I know I will benefit much more from the reading, since that is my dominant learning style.
Last year I participated in a theater production of Macbeth. Backstage, during makeup prep, the actors listened to a playlist of about fifty pop songs. Some I recognized, some I didn’t. But apparently everyone else knew every word to every song by heart. Even after two weeks of listening to the same songs repeatedly, I still couldn’t remember half the lyrics to the choruses, let alone the verses. See, in order to memorize a song, I need to see the lyrics before I can memorize with any success. Visual learning for the win, once again.
Whatever type of learner you are, be aware of the people around you and the different ways they process information. Rather than grow frustrated with those who don’t learn like you do, try to help them by explaining the information again in a way they can more easily process. Instead of just telling your visually oriented sister the list of five house chores she needs to finish, write the chores down for her so she won’t forget them. When you teach a visual learner a new concept, talk slowly and pause frequently to give her time to absorb and understand your words.
Most importantly, don’t worry when you are taught something through a method different than your preferred learning style. View this challenge as an opportunity to improve your learning skills, not a recipe for failure. Keep calm and keep learning.