Using Visual Explanations Leads to Better Performance

I have been listening to Barbara Tversky’s wonderful new book: Mind in Motion, about the roots of thinking in the physical body. I think it is especially relevant for physics teachers.

In her book, Tversky describes a study she carried out with Eliza Bobek called: Creating Visual Explanations Improves Learning (here). In the study, a group of students was asked to explain new learning either verbally (as a piece of writing) or visually (as a diagram). The students were then tested to see whether either explanation strategy had better results.


Creating Visual Explanations Improves Learning Eliza Bobek & Barbara Tversky (4)
The Experiment

On day A, Bobek and Tversky used a 13 minute video clip to provide the input. They then administered post test #1 to all the pupils.

On day B (there was a gap of more than one day between A and B), the pupils were randomly split into two groups. One group was asked to explain the knowledge verbally. The other group explained using a diagram. Neither group received more teaching input. Immediately following the explanation task, the pupils were given post test #2.

Screenshot 2019-10-02 at 07.39.05
Post Test #1 and Post Test #2 score for the verbal group (written explanation) and the visual group (diagramatic explanation)

It is interesting that both groups performed better in the equivalent post test #2 than they did in post test #1. However the real result is that explaining visually, with a diagram led to far better delayed post test performance.

In other words, there is reason to believe that encouraging learners to explain graphically could lead to more efficient learning.

Which is ironic given the title of my blog. Never mind.

I strongly recommend Tversky’s book – it is full of insight.



Verbal and visual examples of pupil work copied from the paper:




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