Two-Time USA Memory Champion; memory training expert and memory keynote Ron White shares his thoughts on the value of visual learning for memory improvement.

Discoveries in brain research show our brain is divided into two hemispheres. The right side is our analytical side, and usually attributed to auditory/sequential learners.  The left hemisphere is attributed to our creative side, and visual/spatial learners are seen as having more processing going on with this side of the brain.


What is a Visual/Spatial Learner?

A visual/spatial learner thinks in pictures instead of words. They learn all at once, seeing the big picture first, and then the details, and when they learn a lesson it seems to stay in their memory for life. Their abilities to memorize a speech, or remembering names and faces, are remarkable.

A visual/spatial learner can not tell you step-by-step how they came up with the answer to a problem, and will probably not be able to show their work if that is required because their brain processes information differently than what is normally taught in class. Memorizing and retention is not achieved for they learners by repetition, or sequential drilling. They arrive at an answer to a complex questions by creating a mental picture of a concept and relating it to something they already know. They to do complex tasks easier than simple ones, and once they learn something it sticks.

These students are creatively gifted, usually late bloomers, and enjoy tasks that require more complex thinking – like mathematical equations, chess, constructing massive projects with Legos, and conducting science experiments. They also excel at music, art and drama – and are emotionally sensitive to others.

The visually/spatial learner is usually the brightest one in the class, but not necessarily the best student. These are also the ones who often drop out of school out of frustration, are classified as “underachievers” – often seen as struggling or “at risk.” The self-esteem of these students gradually erodes until they drop out because they feel “dumb.”

What is an Auditory/Sequential Learner?

The auditory/sequential students learn how to memorize anything by a series of steps or instructions by word – either written or heard. They are early bloomers, who follow directions well and pay attention to details. They see the details first, then the larger picture. This type of student is well organized and likes a certain structure to life. They excel at memorizing vocabulary words or dates that are offered in a sequence.

The auditory/sequential learner is moody, is usually comfortable with just one right answer – not trying to seek out alternatives. They learn how to memorize anything by repetition and step-by-step instructions, and are very detail-oriented. The sequential learner analyzes details, from simple to complex, and processes this information by deduction. They are very aware of time, and are influenced by language and what they hear.

Teachers tend to teach to the auditory/sequential learner rather than the visual/spatial learner. Concepts are introduced in a step-by-step fashion, practiced with drill and repetition, timed practice, and then reviewed. This type of learners usually gets good grades, but has to work at memorizing and retaining what they learn.


Which learning style is best?

Ideally, if a student would learn to use both techniques they would excel in every way. It’s always good to see the whole entire picture and then zoom in on the details, moving back and forth. An organized student is a better student, and able to improve their study skills.

Those who learn best with words, auditory instruction and sequential (step-by-step) learning do better in school because that is how most teachers teach. They do not retain as much, and tend to limit themselves to the details, without seeing the overall picture.

The visual/spatial thinkers are often the gifted students, but often show weakness in the auditory/sequential skills (high IQ’s do not always mean good grades). They can blow you away with their potential, can orchestrate large amounts of information from different domains, are great at memorization, but they often miss the details.” Unless their teacher is able to identify their learning style and modify how they teach them the visual learners fall through the cracks of the system.

According to Dr. Linda Kreger Silverman, teacher and director of the Gifted Developmental Center (GDC), “We only have two hemispheres, and we are doing an excellent job teaching one of them. We need only become more aware of how to reach the other, and we will have happier students, learning more effectively.”




Dr Linda Kreger Silverman – Visual/Spatial Learners:

Lesley K Sword – Gifted and Creative Services, Australia: