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5 reasons why visualisers help students learn

5 reasons why visualisers help students learn

4 min read
  • Cognitive Load Theory
  • Delivering feedback
  • Metacognition

Visualisers are all the rage at the moment – and like many new things in education, they could either be a fad or a genuinely useful tool. As they are becoming more and more popular, we thought we’d explore the psychological benefits of using them. Can using them in your classroom boost how much students learn? We set out to investigate and here is what we found:

Visualisers: A 30-second recap

If you haven’t seen one already, a visualiser is a mounted camera that displays an image of whatever is under it onto the smart board so that the whole class can see. They’re becoming so popular that many teachers are starting to swear off PowerPoint in favour of them.

Here are 5 psychological reasons why that might be the case:

Help reduce Cognitive Load by minimising the Redundancy Effect

Cognitive Load Theory is becoming increasingly popular within education. It highlights how our working memory has a limited capacity and that, if students are presented with too much information, they may suffer from cognitive overload, which causes learning to slow down or stop.

An important part of cognitive load theory is the Redundancy Effect, which states that giving students irrelevant information whilst they are learning something will clog up their working memory. This means they are more likely to remember the redundant parts of the lesson instead.

An interesting study investigated the effect of PowerPoint animations and sound effects on memory recall. We think that these two findings in particular stand out:

  • Students who received lessons with no background music or sounds were able to recall 76% more than those who had a lesson that had both.
  • Groups who had lessons with background music learnt less than those who did not. The latter group was able to recall 11% more information and did 29% better on subsequent tests.

But how does this link to visualisers?

The process of using a visualiser strips away the unnecessary bells and whistles of PowerPoint effects that may actually hinder learning.  Instead, using a visualiser helps a teacher to emphasise the information that you want the students to focus on. Quite literally, you are removing the redundant information from the students’ focus and replacing it with what’s important.

Help reduce Cognitive Load by making worked examples easier

Worked examples are where novice students are given the step-by-step guidance needed to answer a question. This reduces cognitive overload as research has shown that, without it, students often focus all of their attention on solving the problem, which leaves little room in their working memory to store the actual steps they used.

Using a visualiser means that teachers are able to initially model the strategy needed to solve a problem. Also, as students may not understand this the first time, it allows teachers to model and present alternative strategies at short notice.

Flexibility and adaptability are two massive abilities that underpin an effective teacher, even more so in today’s ever-changing environment. Pre-set PowerPoints are rigid by their very nature. Visualisers make it easier to make live adjustments but also pitch your lesson at the right level based on how the class respond.

Provide better quality feedback

A visualiser allows teachers to show all students what the gold standard of works looks like, meaning they can give quick group feedback. This also helps teachers to maintain high expectations, but crucially to keep these expectations realistic as the students understand they are achievable.

An awesome added effect of this is how it links with students’ self-efficacy. If pitched correctly, by showing students their peers’ gold standard work on a visualiser, this can boost their motivation and confidence. This is referred to as a vicarious experience. The idea here is to get students thinking that they too can achieve, because they are at the same level as what you are showing. This should shift a student’s thinking to ‘If they can do it, I can do it too’.

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Utilise the Production Effect

The Production Effect refers to the process of producing something from the new material learnt as a way to help embed it into one’s long term memory. An example of harnessing this effect would be a teacher drawing out a diagram in real-time. This could allow the students to do the same (without feeling rushed as happens with PowerPoint animations). As an additional bonus, when students see themselves completing a task (especially when it is new), their confidence is improved going forwards.

A useful tool for developing Metacognition

Developing metacognitive learners is now seen as the bedrock for deeper learning, mainly because it has been positively associated with academic performance.

Visualisers help to improve students’ metacognitive ability as they allow teachers to model their thought process clearly and in real time when answering questions and solving problems. This helps students gain knowledge of the topic but also knowledge of the strategy implemented too. This enhances the likelihood that they can transfer this to different but similar problems. This is a key part of metacognition.

Final thoughts

Visualisers may not be new to the classroom, but there does seem to be a resurgence in their use. They are not the answer to every problem (nothing is!) but, if used effectively, they can prove to be a very helpful tool in the ongoing quest in helping students maximise their learning.

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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