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Published on February 2, 2021

How To Improve Your Visual-Spatial Skills

How To Improve Your Visual-Spatial Skills

When I think of visual-spatial skills, I think of an aptitude test I took in high school where I had to analyze different shapes and figure out what they would look like if they were turned this way or that. I didn’t give it much more thought than that at the time, but visual-spatial skills are increasingly important in today’s world.

Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences

Visual-spatial intelligence is one of Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences. Gardner’s theory expands what we think of as intelligence. Instead of just academic intelligence, or book smarts, Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences leaves room for people to excel in other areas.

Gardner’s multiple intelligences include musical, verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic, existential, and visual-spatial.

Visual-Spatial Intelligence

Visual-spatial intelligence is the ability to visualize objects’ positions, shapes, movements, and their relationships to other objects. For me to grasp visual-spatial intelligence, I think about two things. First, that aptitude test I took in high school. I had to mentally flip objects around and move them to be able to get the test questions correct.

Second, Ikea furniture. Nothing makes me think visual-spatial intelligence (or lack thereof) like putting together some Ikea furniture. My husband was just building an armoire. I came downstairs and saw that one of the shelves should have been inverted and rotated to fit better into the frame.

That’s visual-spatial intelligence—being able to mentally picture how objects will look when they’re moved and how that will change their relationship to other objects. If I’m being totally honest, the shelf still ended up being upside down, so maybe my visual-spatial intelligence isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

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How to Improve Your Visual-Spatial Skills

Thinking about visual-spatial skills as intelligence might give you the impression that it’s innate—you’re either born with it or you’re not. But that’s not at all true.

I’m a big fan of Carol Dweck’s mindset theory, and I think it’s a great way to think about visual-spatial skills as well. A growth mindset is when you think that your skills and abilities are malleable—that you can improve with dedication and practice over time.

On the other hand, a fixed mindset is when you think skills and abilities (like visual-spatial intelligence) are fixed—that you’re either born with it or you’re not.

It’s important to have a growth mindset when it comes to visual-spatial skills. There are exercises and activities you can do each day to improve your ability to visualize objects, their relationships to other objects, and their positions in space.

1. Move Your Body

One way to improve your visual-spatial skills is to be one of those moving objects. That’s right—move your body.

Visual-spatial intelligence includes being able to visualize your body’s relationship to other objects in space, so movement that requires this kind of bodily intelligence can beef up your visual-spatial skills. Think dance and martial arts.[1] If you have to strain your brain to figure out which foot goes where, then you’re probably strengthening your visual-spatial skills as well as your body.

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You can also pay attention to objects’ shapes, sizes, and relationships to other objects, while you’re outside taking a walk. What’s in the background? What’s in the foreground? How far is that tree away from that creek? Study the scenery as objects and examine those objects’ position as compared to other objects.

2. Paint a Pretty Little Painting

Visual arts can also help your visual-spatial skills. I vividly remember watching Bob Ross paint his pretty little trees on PBS when I was a kid. I would watch for hours because I was fascinated by the way he could create such depth in his paintings.

When I painted, everything was the same size and on the same plane. Not Bob Ross. His paintings had objects with clear relationships to other objects. The mountains were in the background. The trees were in front of the mountains. Birds were flying here and there, from foreground to background.

What better way to enhance your visual-spatial skills than wielding your own paintbrush and painting your own happy little trees? Even if you’re no Monet, you’ll still be practicing the skill of visualizing objects and their relationships to other objects. You can even find Bob Ross’s tutorials on YouTube still if you want to learn from the master himself.

3. Ditch the GPS

While you’re at it, you might as well ditch your GPS the next time you’re driving or walking somewhere. GPS does us no favors in terms of visual-spatial skills. You don’t have to pay any attention to where you are or how you’re going to get yourself to point B when you’re using GPS.

So, turn off the phone and find yourself a map. Before your next adventure, study the map and figure out how to get from point A to point B. Studying maps is a great way to force your brain to boost its visual-spatial skills.

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4. Play Video Games

Video games are another way to work your visual-spatial skills. Think Tetris or Snood. I know I’m dating myself, but these games are a great way to visualize objects’ shapes, sizes, and relationships to other objects. They’re also a great way to visualize how objects will affect other objects when they move through space. It’s definitely a bonus that they’re also fun and a great way to pass the time on a long GPS-free car trip.

5. Try 3D Puzzles

There is also a whole slew of 3D puzzles you can try. I always think of the 3D Empire State Building puzzle but there are tons of other options. The sky’s the limit, really.

Even a regular puzzle is a fine way to practice your visual-spatial skills since you have to imagine what pieces will look like when they’re flipped and turned. So, find yourself a puzzle, hunker down, and boost those visual-spatial skills.

6. Bust Out the Brain Teasers

You can also find brain teasers that are reminiscent of that high school aptitude test I took.[2] These are just visual questions about which shape comes next to make a pattern or what this shape would look like if inverted or rotated. These brain teasers are also a ton of fun for children.

7. Build Stuff

Let’s say you’ve done the brain teasers and you’ve built the puzzles, and you’re still hungry for more visual-spatial skill-building. I’ve got you covered. You can literally build things.

When I was a kid, I competed in Odyssey of the Mind. We did the challenge where you had to build a structure out of balsa wood. The structure had to be super strong and endure weights and collisions, so the very act of designing and building this lightweight yet strong structure demanded intense visual-spatial skills and problem-solving.

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Now, you don’t have to build a balsa wood structure to boost your visual-spatial skills. You could build a contraption to protect a raw egg from a high fall. You could build a chicken coop. You could even build some Ikea furniture. It’s up to you, but if you want to keep your skills sharp, just build something.

8. Read

You can also boost your visual-spatial skills by reading. Any book that involves objects (including people) moving through space helps improve your skills. It’s way better than a film or TV show because you have to picture the action in your mind, and that’s what visual-spatial skills are all about: visualizing objects.

9. Pick Up an Instrument and Play

Studies have also shown that playing a musical instrument boosts your visual-spatial skills.[3] Again, this has to do with imagination and visualization. To play an instrument you have to picture how your body needs to move to create a certain sound.

So, the next time you’re plunking away at the piano, you can encourage yourself by saying that while you may not be the best pianist, at least you’re boosting your visual-spatial skills.

Why Visual-Spatial Skills Matter

More and more jobs require visual-spatial skills. It used to be the turf of architects and designers, but now an increasing amount of programming, computing, and tech jobs also require people to be able to mentally manipulate objects in space.

You need visual-spatial skills to be able to think abstractly and understand how details fit together to create the big picture.

So, whether you’re painting, playing, building, or roaming, the results are the same. Boost your visual-spatial skills to better understand the world and your place in it and to finally be able to put together that Kleppstad armoire from Ikea.

More About Learning Styles

Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Clay Drinko

Clay Drinko is an educator and the author of PLAY YOUR WAY SANE (January 2021 Simon & Schuster)

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Last Updated on April 26, 2021

How to Know Which Types of Learning Styles Work for You?

How to Know Which Types of Learning Styles Work for You?

One of the biggest realizations I had as a kid is that teaching in school could be hit or miss for students. We all have our own different types of learning styles. Even when I was in study groups, we all had our own ways of uncovering solutions to questions.

It wasn’t only until later in my life did I realize how important it is to know your own learning style. As soon as you know how you learn and the best way to learn, you can better retain information. This information could be crucial to your job, future promotions, and overall excelling in life.

Best of all about this information is that, it’s not hard to figure out what works best for you. There are broad categories of learning styles, so it’s a matter of finding which one we gravitate towards most.

What Are the Types of Learning Styles?

Before we get into the types of learning styles, there’s one thing to know:

We all learn through repetition.

No matter how old you are, studies show that repetition allows us to retain and learn new information.[1] The big question now is what kind of repetition is needed. After all, we all learn and process information differently.

This is where the types of learning styles come in. There are eight in total and there is one or two that we prefer over others. This is important because when reading these learning styles, you’ll feel like you’d prefer a mixture of these styles.

That’s because we do prefer a combination. Though there will be one style that will be more predominate over the others. The key is finding which one it is.

Visual Learning

A visual learner (also known as the spatial learner) excels at deciphering anything visual – typically maps and graphs.

If you are this type of learner, you likely excelled at geometry in math class but struggled with arithmetic and numbers. To this day, you might also struggle with reading and writing to a degree.

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While visual learners are described as “late bloomers,” they are highly imaginative. They also process what they see much faster than what they hear.

Verbal Learning

Verbal learning, on the other hand, is learning through what’s spoken. Verbal learners excel in reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Because of that, they are likely the ones to find thrills in tongue twists, word games, and puns.

They also thoroughly enjoy drama, writing, and speech classes. But give them maps, or challenge them to think outside of the box and they’ll struggle a bit.

Logical Learning

Not to be confused with visual learners, these learners are good at math and logic puzzles. Anything involving numbers or other abstract visual information is where they excel.

They can also analyze cause and effect relationships quite well. Part of that is due to their thinking process being linear.

Another big difference is their need to quantify everything. These people love grouping information, creating specific lists, agendas or itineraries.

They also have a love for strategy games and making calculations in their heads.

Auditory Learning

Similar to verbal learning, this type of learning style focuses on sounds on a deeper level. These people think chronologically and excel more in the step-by-step methods. These are likely the people who will watch Youtube videos to learn or do something the most.

These learners also have a great memory of conversations and love debates and discussions. Chances are likely these people excel at anything oral.

Also as the name suggests, these individuals have great musical talents. They can decern notes, instruments, rhythms and tones. That being said, they will have a tough time interpreting body language, expressions and gestures. This also applies to charts, maps and graphs.

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Social Learning

Otherwise known as the interpersonal learner, their skills are really unique. They don’t particularly excel in classrooms but rather through talking to other people.

These are the people who are excited for group conversations or group projects. Mainly because they are gifted with coming up with ideas and discussing them.

They also have a good understanding of people’s emotions, facial expressions, and relationship dynamics. They are also likely the first people to point out the root causes of communication issues.

Intrapersonal Learning

The reverse of interpersonal learning, these people prefer learning alone. These are the people who love self-study and working alone. Typically, intrapersonal learners are deeply in tune with themselves meaning they know who they are, their feelings, and their own capabilities.

This type of learning style means you love learning something on your own and typically every day. You also have innate skills in managing yourself and indulging in self-reflection.

Physical Learning

Also known as kinesthetic learning, these people love doing things with their hands. These are people who loved pottery or shop class. If you’re a physical learner, you’ll find you have a huge preference in using your body in order to learn.

This means not just pottery or shop class you enjoyed. You may also have loved sports or any other art medium like painting or woodwork. Anything that involved you learning through physical manipulation you enjoyed and excelled at.

Though this doesn’t just apply to direct physical activities. A physical learner may also find that they learn well when both reading on any subject and pacing or bouncing your leg at the same time.

Naturalistic Learning

The final learning style is naturalistic. These are people who process information through patterns in nature. They also apply scientific reasoning in order to understand living creatures.

Not many people may be connected to this one out of the types of learning styles primarily because of those facts. Furthermore, those who excel in this learning end up being farmers, naturalists or scientists.

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These are the people who love everything with nature. They appreciate plants, animals, and rural settings deeply compared to others.

How to Know Which One(s) Suit You Better?

So now that you have an idea of all the types of learning styles we have another question:

Which one(s) are best for you?

As a reminder, all of us learn through a combination of these learning styles. This makes pinpointing these styles difficult since our learning is likely a fusion of two or more of those styles.

Fortunately, there are all kinds of methods to narrow down which learner you are. Let’s explore the most popular one: the VARK model.

VARK Model

Developed by Neil Fleming and David Baume, the VARK model is basically a conversation starter for teachers and learners.[2] It takes the eight types of learning styles above and condenses them into four categories:

  • Visual – those who learn from sight.
  • Auditory – those who learn from hearing.
  • Reading/writing – those who learn from reading and writing.
  • Kinesthetic – those who learn from doing and moving.

As you can probably tell, VARK comes from the first letter of each style.

But why use this particular model?

This model was created not only for discussion purposes but for learners to know a few key things — namely understanding how they learn.

Because our school system is focusing on a one-size-fits-all model, there are many of us who struggle learning in school. While we may no longer go to school, these behaviors persisted into our adult lives regardless. While we aren’t learning about algebra or science, we may be learning new things about our job or industry. Knowing how to best retain that information for the future helps in so many ways.

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As such, it can be frustrating when we’re in a classroom setting and aren’t understanding anything. That or maybe we’re listening to a speech or reading a book and have no clue what’s going on.

This is where VARK comes back in. To quote Fleming and Baume:

“VARK above all is designed to be a starting place for a conversation among teachers and learners about learning. It can also be a catalyst for staff development- thinking about strategies for teaching different groups can lead to more, and appropriate, variety of learning and teaching.”

Getting into the specifics, this is what’s known as metacognition.[3] It helps you to understand how you learn and who you are. Think of it as a higher order of thinking that takes control over how you learn. It’s impossible to not use this while learning.

But because of that metacognition, we can pinpoint the different types of learning styles that we use. More importantly, what style we prefer over others.

Ask These Questions

One other method that I’ll mention is the research that’s done at the University of Waterloo.[4] If you don’t want to be using a lot of brainpower to pinpoint, consider this method.

The idea with this method is to answer a few questions. Since our learning is a combination of styles, you’ll find yourself leaning to one side over the other with these questions:

  • The active/reflective scale: How do you prefer to process information?
  • The sensing/intuitive scale: How do you prefer to take in information?
  • The visual/verbal scale: How do you prefer information to be presented?
  • The sequential/global scale: How do you prefer to organize information?

This can narrow down how you learn and provide some other practical tips for enhancing your learning experience.

Final Thoughts

Even though we have a preferred style of learning and knowing what that is is beneficial, learning isn’t about restriction. Our learning style shouldn’t be the sole learning style we rely on all the time.

Our brain is made of various parts and whatever style we learn activates certain parts of the brain. Because of this fact, it would be wise to consider other methods of learning and to give them a try.

Each method I mentioned has its merits and there’s not one dominate or superior method. What method we like is entirely up to our preferences. So be flexible with those preferences and uncover what style works best for you.

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Featured photo credit: Anna Earl via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] BrainScape: Repetition is the mother of all learning
[2] Neil Fleming and David Baume: VARKing Up the Right Tree
[3] ERIC: Metacognition: An Overview
[4] University of Waterloo: Understanding Your Learning Style

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