The Visual-Spatial Learning Style

Child looking at picture book with mom
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The visual-spatial learning style is one of eight types of learning styles defined in Howard Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Visual-spatial learning style, or visual-spatial intelligence, refers to a person's ability to perceive, analyze, and understand visual information in the world around them. Essentially, they can picture concepts with their mind's eye.

People with this learning style tend to think visually and often prefer learning the same way. They are good at seeing the "big picture," but they sometimes overlook the details.


The term "visual-spatial learner" was first coined by psychologist Linda Kreger Silverman Ph.D., an expert on giftedness and the author of several books on visual-spatial learning.

She has identified a number of key characteristics of this type of learner:

  • They think in pictures rather than in words.
  • They learn more easily when presented with visual rather than auditory information
  • They are whole-picture thinkers who grasp a concept all at once and see the whole before acknowledging the details.
  • They neither learn in the step-by-step fashion that is common in the classroom nor learn well from drills and repetition.
  • They struggle with showing the sequence of a process. For example, when the teacher asks them to show their work, they cannot easily do that, since they see the task as a whole, rather than a product of several steps. Despite this, they are able to work on complex tasks and may be classified as systems thinkers.
  • They may seem disorganized.
  • They have vivid imaginations and are often good at coming up with unusual or unexpected ways to solve problems.

Silverman's research suggests that approximately 30 percent of students can be considered strong visually-spatially, with another significant percentage leaning toward this learning style.

How Visual-Spatial Learners Learn

People with visual-spatial intelligence learn best when taught using written, modeled, or diagrammed instruction, and visual media. Visually and spatially talented students have a good visual memory for details. They do less well with auditory-sequential teaching methods such as lecture, recitation, drill, and repetition.

In terms of what this may translate to in daily life:

  • Children with this style may do better with whole word recognition rather than phonics.
  • They may not perform well with spelling and handwriting.
  • When learning math, they benefit from using manipulatives and story problems instead of performing equations.
  • They are likely to do better at geometry.
  • They enjoy puzzles, mazes, maps, and building blocks.

Grade schools have traditionally focused on auditory-sequential learning methods that may not have served visual-spatial learners well.

These children may begin to perform better in higher grades and college, where their gifts at grasping whole concepts and the big picture become more important. These individuals are often thought of as "late-bloomers" because of this.

Favorite School Activities

Students who are strong in the visual-spatial learning style enjoy school activities such as art, drafting, shop, geometry, computer graphics, and computer-assisted design. They often have an excellent visual memory for details in print and in the environment.

People with visual-spatial learning styles are good at visual problem-solving and visual estimation.

Popular Career Choices When They Grow Up

Students strong in visual-spatial intelligence may be drawn to careers such as working in video, television, drafting, architecture, photography, artistry, airline piloting, air traffic control, construction, counseling, fashion design, fashion merchandising, visual advertising, and interior design.

In terms of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers specifically, they may be drawn to physics, engineering, astronomy, or surgery.

Helping Your Visual-Spatial Child

While visual-spatial learners tend to learn best from what they can see, traditional educational settings may not be geared toward this type of learning.

If you think that your child might lean toward this style of learning, one way to make learning more appealing is to make use of visual aids. Pictures, graphics, tablet games, and videos can be an effective way to make what your child is learning more interesting and accessible. (And the same goes for parents who may share this learning style.)

Also, speak with your child's teacher. There may be some easy solutions he or she can incorporate into the classroom, and making a teacher aware of the need may be all it takes for a change to be implemented.

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Article Sources

  • Silverman, LK. The visual-spatial learner. Preventing School Failure: Alternative Education for Children and Youth. 2010:15-20. doi:10.1080/1045988X.1989.9944547.