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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via


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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 August 11, 2021

23 Killer Sites for Free Online Education Anyone Can Use

23 Killer Sites for Free Online Education Anyone Can Use

Whether you’re five or ninety five, the internet has a lot to offer. Particularly when the topic is education, the resources on the internet are endless. Best of all, many high quality sites are completely free. From history to coding, excellent, free online education awaits on the following 23 sites.

1. Coursera

Coursera is a website that partners with universities and organizations around the world. This brings a wide variety of topics and perspectives to one searchable database.

Coursera is a powerful tool for free online education and includes courses from many top universities, museums and trusts. This gives the site an extremely wide range of in-depth courses.

Coursera is extremely useful if you’re looking to study many different topics, or want courses from different schools and groups. However, the free courses are now quite limited, so you’ll have to

2. Khan Academy

Partnering with many post secondary schools, Khan Academy offers a useable, well-organized interface. Also curating many courses from around the web, Khan Academy offers impressive depth on many different subjects.

Among the more well-known educational sites, Khan Academy is also incredibly user-friendly, which may make it easier to keep learning goals. If you’re looking for a free online education, you can’t go wrong with Khan Academy.

3. Open Culture Online Courses

If you are struggling to find exactly the material you are looking for, try Open Culture’s listing of free online education courses. The page highlights 1000 lectures, videos, and podcasts from universities around the world.

The site features a lot of material found only on universities’ private sites, all in easy-to-browse categories. This means you can find hundreds of university courses without having to visit and search each university’s site.

Open Culture’s list features courses from England, Australia, Wales, and many state universities around the United States. It’s a very helpful resource for finding many courses in one area of study.

4. Udemy 

Udemy’s free courses are similar in concept to Coursera’s but additionally allows users to build custom courses from lessons.


Working with many top professors and schools, the site mixes the customizable platform of other sites with a heavy emphasis on top-quality content. This is another site, however, that mixes free and paid content.

5. Lifehack Fast Track Class

Lifehack believes in skills that multiply your time, energy, and overall quality of life.

In this rapidly changing world, traditional education skills just don’t cut it anymore. You can’t afford to take years learning a skill you’ll never really practice. Besides offering some paid courses that will help you become a better self, it offers a list of free courses which aim to train some of the Core Life Multipliers including:

These are cross-functional skills that work across many aspects of life.

6. Academic Earth

Another site with courses from many different schools is Academic Earth. Much like the three sites above, Academic Earth brings together top notch courses from many different sources and focuses on offering a wide variety of subjects.

Academic Earth lists courses by subject and school, so it might be easier to find what you’re looking for.

7. edX

Another great option for free online education is edX. Also bringing together courses from many different schools, the site has impressive, quality information for everyone. edX covers a great range of topics from universities such as Harvard, MIT, and Berkeley, meaning a high-quality, free online education is entirely possible here.

8. Alison

Unlike the previous sites on this list, Alison is a free education site offering certification in some areas. Alison offers courses mainly in business, technology, and health, but also includes language learning courses.

It’s a great option if users need a professional certificate for their learning, as Alison also offers school curriculum courses.

9. iTunesU Free Courses

A very convenient place for free online education is iTunesU, because it integrates seamlessly with your iPod or any app-ready Apple mobile device. On an iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch, users download the iTunesU app.


Desktop users can access iTunesU on the upper right hand corner of the iTunes Store. iTunesU is also convenient because the store is categorized much like iTunes.

Users can search learning materials in many different ways, including by genre and topic. However, courses are often a mix of free podcasts or videos and paid content.

iTunesU does include courses on a variety of topics, but it does not integrate with Android, Google or Windows mobile devices.

10. Stanford Online

Your hub for all the online offerings from Stanford University, Stanford Online offers self-paced and session-based courses. While Coursera features some courses from Stanford, many classes are only available via other hosts. Some courses require iTunes, but most are completed in your web browser.

Stanford Online is a great site for high-quality courses, though the topics are somewhat limited compared to sites partnered with more than one school. If you’re looking for free courses, make sure to mark the “free” option on the left-hand side.

11. Open Yale Courses

Open Yale Courses echoes Stanford Online, in that it offers only courses from Yale. While the site is similarly limited to topics taught at the school, Open Yale Courses offers a lot of videos of actual campus lectures. The availability of videos makes the site a great option if you’re looking for quality courses but learn better by watching than by reading.

12. UC Berkeley Class Central

Much like the other schools on this list, UC Berkeley has a variety of free online education options. The school has slightly fewer courses than the schools above, but it includes some supplementary lectures, webcasts, and RSS Feeds, making it easy to keep up with the topics you choose.

13. MIT OpenCourseWare

Similarly, MIT offers a variety of free courses. The school has a comparable number of courses to the schools above, and it includes very in-depth course materials on the subjects available. MIT also offers free RSS feeds, a convenient way to continue learning.

14. Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative

Carnegie Mellon’s free online education site is comparable with the other school’s on this list. However, Open Learning Initiative also covers a smaller range of topics, but for the topics that are covered, impressive, in-depth material is available.

15. Codecademy

Codecademy is a website dedicated specifically to teaching coding. Where other coding sites follow an example/practice session workflow, Codecademy includes a live practice window. This means you can practice coding while still viewing the lesson material.


The courses at Codecademy are well-written and easy to follow, and the website is organized very nicely. Codecademy features a centralized dashboard where you can monitor your progress, and it organizes lessons into complete modules. This lets you learn an entire language without needing to pick the next course manually.

16. Code

Code is another website focused on coding and app writing. A site with high-quality courses, Code also features learning options for kids.

In addition to kid-friendly courses, Code offers free online education classes on a wide variety of technology topics. These classes include app writing, robotics, and Javascript.

Most of the courses are also geared in a such a way that they can be useful in a classroom setting. This makes Code a great resource for harder to find coding topics, as well as various learning settings.

17. University of Oxford Podcasts

The University of Oxford features many different podcasts. Most are public lecture series or lectures from visiting professors, with several different recordings available.

The advantage to this particular site is that podcasts are organized into series, making it easy to subscribe to multiple lectures on one topic. This is another great site for thoroughly in-depth lectures.

18. BBC Podcasts

For the more casual learner, the BBC offers a wide variety of podcasts on many different topics. Most podcasts are updated weekly and focus on everything from finance, to sports, to current events.

Through the World Service line of podcasts, there are also many in different languages. The focus of these podcasts are less in-depth and theory based, which may be more accessible to the average person.

19. TED-Ed

Another great destination for more general learning and free online education is TED-Ed. From the same people that brought you the all-encompassing, motivational web series comes a site chocked full of educational videos. Most include impressive animation, and all are ten minutes long or less.

Not only is TED-Ed an excellent site for the curious, but it also includes supplemental materials and quizzes on the videos. This makes the site extremely useful in formal education settings, as well as in entertaining ways to brush up on new discoveries and topics.


20. LessonPaths

LessonPaths is another great tool for those looking for a more usable and convenient way to access learning material. On this site, users create link playlists of their favorite learning materials from other sites. Users then rank these collections, making it easy to find many different high-quality, accessible sources on a given topic.

21. Memrise

Another impressive free online education site offering ease of use and convenience is Memrise. Available both on desktop and as an app, Memrise is a particularly powerful tool if you are studying a language. The site encompasses many other topics as well, though some of the course material is user generated content.

Part of what makes Memrise special is their integration of games into the learning materials, mixing learning with entertainment.

22. National Geographic Kids

The kids site for National Geographic is another site that makes free online education applicable for younger users. For those looking for kid-friendly education, a large variety of games, puzzles, videos and photos keep kids interested on this site.

National Geographic Kids doesn’t organize learning into courses, making materials available by topic and medium instead. This makes National Geographic Kids a good option for those looking for a more casual learning environment.

23. Fun Brain

Fun Brain is another great option for kids looking for free online education, as it focuses on games and fun puzzles. Particularly focused on math and reading, Fun Brain’s game-based approach can be valuable if the child in question struggles to pay attention.

Fun Brain offers rewards and challenges as well, and it is another site aimed at a casual learning experience for kids K-8.

The Bottom Line

With so many amazing free online education resources, everyone has the ability to boost their skills and knowledge. Whether you’re interested in picking up some interesting trivia for your next party, improve your resume with some coding or business skills, or become a more well-rounded person, these resources are perfect for you.

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