“As human beings, and especially when young, we are intensely curious about ourselves, the world around us and the relationship between the two. We use our senses to explore the world and have at hand a variety of ways in which to clarify this experience into learning and exchange our findings. We talk a lot, write a little, size things up with mathematics, sing, move, and if we are lucky, make images of what we see, feel, or imagine.

More than half our learning will grow from visual response, which, within formal education, may be seen as Visual Learning which permeates most subjects… ”

Having written this over 25 years ago, it is reasonable to reflect on its current relevance.

Although we now know considerably more about brain function and how we learn, this is not fully reflected in education. Certainly, with the rise of computers and the internet, factual knowledge has become a less important part of what is taught, content. This technology has also had a huge impact on the way we teach, method. However, the inter-related changes in school governance (where schools operate as independent competitive units) along with increased political control of what should be taught has stifled the application of advanced knowledge of how we learn.

It has not been helpful to have the training of teachers vested fully in the universities. Their purpose and ways of working are remote from those of schools. Teacher pre-service training and continuing professional development should be by separate institutions with close links to schools and in scale be able to offer a wide range of courses together with research with emphasis on classroom relevance. (Understandably, this viewpoint could be considerably expanded.)

From the general to particular, it should be noted that the ‘rise of computers’ has had a consequential fall in students’ direct stimulation through hands-on experience. Over thousands of years of human development hands and eyes have been dominant input mechanisms for exploring our world.

Today, much of this contact is replaced by the preprocessed resources of computers and the vast repository we call the Net. The power of seeing and thinking and communicating with images is poorly understood by educators and is assumed learning.

We must maintain a wide range of direct sensory input, learn to process this experience as memory in a number of ‘modes’, and have opportunities to communicate with others confidently using the full range of available media. This applies across most subjects. Of particular concern are areas of communication where creativity is a feature – the ‘expressive’ areas of imaginative writing, drama, dance … and the Visual Arts where visual communication is to the fore.

Sadly, the current New Zealand Curriculum has degraded the varied modes of thinking and communicating previously found in Dance, Drama, Music … and Art, into the single area of The Arts. This largely ignores the fact that we can solve problems and communicate in forms other than verbal, such as Visual. To “sing, move, and if we are lucky, make images of what we see, feel, or imagine” is being increasingly denied.

To really engage students, they need to ‘get their hands dirty’. Start with a Focus. For example, if studying Flowers we need live plants with flowers that can be seen, smelt, touched (and with care, tasted). This involves Looking and Recording things discovered (these two areas have further sub-divisions).

Digital cameras are an obvious choice for recording, but among the options are Mental Imagery, Scanning (yes, flowers and similar forms will scan well) … and of course Drawing (where the aim is not to show just ‘how flowers look’, but, rather, describe ‘how they are’). This is a shift from visual to verbal mode, by taking notes to support image recording.

It involves visual vocabulary that covers three broad areas:

Visual Components

(particular visual effects) such as – Line, Shape, Structure … Form;

Modifying Factors

(influences that cause change in the way Visual Components appear) – such as Light, angle of View, Material, Fashion … Viewer (personal knowledge, mood);


(aspects of the organisation of Components) – Rhythm, Balance, Scale … Purpose.

More can be added by actively relating this recording to earlier personal experience – “What does this remind me of …? ”

Further, “What else can I find and record from Other People’s Recorded exploration of the focus?” This is where the Net is an invaluable source of additional information.

All this provides a rich body of student experience – call it Seeing. This accumulated information could rest at this point – it has taught students a detailed approach to looking at their world.

SEEING, Drawing for recording

However, student learning can be immeasurably enhanced if the above Seeing is extended as motivation and content for traditional subjects – Science, English and the Visual Arts come to mind. Here the information of Seeing is used for a complicated sequence involving the manipulation of selected ideas, adding/subtracting data, trial modification, combination and re-shaping according to the nature of the particular subject and anticipated outcome. While ideas tend to come from examining the initial information, creativity is largely generated and applied during the manipulation activity, a shift from Seeing to the preparation of a plan/draft/prototype – this is

SHAPING, draft illustration (detail)

Developing this plan as communication involves deciding on the final form and medium of expression, then producing the scientific report, written account, … or illustration – such output is Making.




MAKING, final illustration (detail)


This overall communication process of Seeing/Shaping/Making is Response to Vision.




We all need to know about “Having your say, visually”, which involves Visual Learning (better shown as a diagram).

Response to Vision process


Visual Learning is fully explained here.


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