Understanding The Role Of Visual References In The Modern Classroom

Date Posted:28 March 2017 

While a contested subject, the concept of different learning modalities divided along visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learning has capture educators’ imaginations.

While a contested subject, the concept of different learning modalities divided along visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learning has capture educators’ imaginations. First proposed by researcher Walter Burke Barbe and colleagues proposed the system in 1979,[1] the underlying concept is that different students will be able to gain a deeper understanding of a subject faster when the teaching method aligns with their preferred style of learning.

One of the easiest alternative modalities to introduce into the classroom is visual elements, often in the form of diagrams, videos, charts and illustrations. These can be a great help to students, but care must be taken to choose the right material for the right subject and the right group.

The value of visual materials

While advances in technology have made computers more and more accessible to more educators, and a greater focus is being put on these devices in the curriculum, the majority of teachers around the world rely on more analogue visual learning tools. Charts, printed illustrations and diagrams provide an easy and accessible way to break down and reframe complex ideas.

The impact of these simple tools is not to be underestimated – a 2004 paper compared a number of analyses of the effects of flip charts on the test scores of students enrolled in rural Kenyan schools. While results were conflicted, the retrospective estimates compared suggested that the flip charts contributed to an increase in test scores of up to 20 per cent of a standard deviation.[2]

A 2002 study of the impact the introduction of interactive whiteboards on American middle school education revealed some interesting findings about the use of visual resources in classroom education in general.[3] The majority of students surveyed reported greater engagement with the learning materials when the whiteboard was used, two students commenting that the visual element helped reach more class-members, saying “To some people, when you speak to them, it goes in one ear and out the other.  The visuals help it to stick.”

An adjunct, not a replacement

It’s important to note that to be truly effective, visual elements should not be solely relied upon. A teacher who simply puts on an educational video with no work done to connect it to previous lessons will see engagement and retention drop in that class, so being able to explain how these diagrams and images connect to abstract concepts is crucial.

Choosing the right visual materials is also important. Browse the range of charts and illustrations at Mentone Educational and find something ideal for your next lesson.


[1] Barbe, W., Swassing, R., & Milone, M. (1979). Teaching through modality strengths: Concepts and practices. Columbus, OH: Zaner-Bloser.

[2] Glewwe, P., Kremer, M., Moulin, S., & Zitzewitz, E. (2004). Retrospective vs. prospective analyses of school inputs: the case of flip charts in Kenya. Journal of development Economics, 74(1), 251-268.

[3] Beeland, W. D. (2002, July). Student engagement, visual learning and technology: Can interactive whiteboards help. In Annual Conference of the Association of Information Technology for Teaching Education.

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