Visualize the Whole

The human brain is divided into two hemispheres; left and right.  Each hemisphere has specialized capabilities and each processes different types of information.  The left hemisphere operates in a rational, analytical manner.  It processes verbal information.  It is the seat of language and logical thinking.  It organizes and categorizes information.  The right hemisphere operates in an intuitive, holistic manner.  It processes visual and spatial information.  It is the seat of creativity and imagination.  It combines separate elements to form coherent wholes.

Note taking, lecturing, reading, and analytical thought are left-brain skills.  Recognizing patterns, configurations, shapes, and forms; intuitive thought; and visualization are right-brain skills.  Students spend most of their time developing left-brain (verbal) skills.  Those students who are also thinking pictorially, focusing on the whole instead of on separate parts, and trusting intuition, are taking advantage of both of the ways in which the brain makes learning possible.

According to Allan Paivio of the University of Western Ontario, who has done a great deal of research on memory, if you commit facts and ideas to memory through words only, you are using only half of your brainpower.  When a fact or idea that you memorized through words (and stored in the left hemisphere of your brain) is also memorized through a picture or sketch (and is stored in the right hemisphere of your brain), you set up a powerful combination in your memory.  You can draw on this combination later when you need to recall the fact or idea.

For holistic learning to take place, the left side of your brain must cooperate and harmonize with the right side.  This cooperation is easy to gain if you make it a habit to convert words into actual pictures or diagrams in your notes, or to convert words into mental pictures or images on the blackboard of your mind.  Verbal descriptions often lend themselves quite easily to visual representation.  Unfortunately, in many textbooks, pictures and diagrams are not as numerous as they should be.  When a key concept lacks a picture, you can act as your textbook's illustrator by drawing what you read.

- Allan Pavio, Imagery and Verbal Process (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston,
1971), pp. 522-23.

- Pauk, Walter, How to Study in College, p. 210.