What is Dual Coding?
Dual Coding is one of many tools for effective learning and is probably one of those strategies you’ve used before without actively thinking about it. Quite simply, it’s a technique that combines visual and verbal elements, harnessing both words and images to encode information. When you engage both the language centres in your brain (verbal) and the visual centres (non-verbal), you create multiple pathways to access the same knowledge, making it easier to recall later on.
I first came across this concept after reading ‘Dual Coding with Teachers’ by Oliver Caviglioli (https://www.olicav.com/#/dual-coding-with-teachers-book/). Although primarily aimed at teachers, this book is packed full of great information to help anyone improve their use of visuals to enhance learning of new material.
For me, one of the key takeaways from this book was that you don’t need to be an artist to create diagrams to aid your learning – basic icons will do the job.
A few years back I also watched the online webinar from Adam Boxer as part of the researchEDHome 2020 on ‘Dual Coding for Teachers Who Can’t Draw’. If you’re an educator and want to improve your explanations, then this one’s for you!
Source: ResearchED (YouTube)
How does Dual Coding work?
Imagine you're studying a complex concept, like the proton-proton chain in nuclear fusion. Instead of merely reading a textbook or watching a video, Dual Coding suggests you create visual aids alongside your notes. Draw diagrams of the fusion process, label the different stages, and add short, concise descriptions. When you do this, your brain processes the information in two ways: through the text you write and the images you draw. This reinforces the connections in your brain, leading to better understanding and memory retention.
The Learning Scientists (https://www.learningscientists.org/) have produced a good summary of how to go about Dual Coding, shown below.
Practical Tips for Studying with Dual Coding
Magical Mind Maps: Mind maps are fantastic tools for using Dual Coding in your study routine. Start with a central concept or topic and create branches that lead to subtopics. Use keywords or short phrases to represent each idea and connect them with lines. Spice it up with colours and icons! The result? A visual masterpiece that organises your thoughts and facilitates better recall. For example, if you're studying history, draw a mind map with the main historical event at the centre and connect it to its causes, consequences, and key figures. Alternatively, you could create an infographic with a timeline of key dates, brief descriptions of events and simple diagrams.
Flashcards with a Twist: Flashcards are already great, but with Dual Coding, they become unstoppable memory boosters. Instead of just writing a question on one side and an answer on the other, add an illustration or diagram on the question side. This visual cue will help your brain make connections and anchor the information in your memory. For example, when learning a language, pair a word with an image representing its meaning on the flashcard's front side. On the back, write the word's pronunciation and usage in a sentence.
Picture-Perfect Notes: When you take notes during a class or while reading a textbook, make them visually appealing. Use coloured pens, highlighters, and symbols to emphasise important points. Incorporate simple doodles or sketches that represent the concepts you're learning. This adds an extra layer of meaning to your notes and enhances your memory retention.
Convert Text into Visuals: Long paragraphs can be intimidating, but Dual Coding makes them conquerable. Whenever you encounter a wall of text, challenge yourself to convert it into an engaging visual representation. Create flowcharts, timelines, or even comic strips to illustrate the information in a fun and engaging way. For example, if you have to memorise essay structures for an English exam, try to use diagrams where possible to break up the large chunks of text.
Create Your Own Educational Videos: Teach others what you've learned! This might not be for everyone, but grab your smartphone or a simple drawing tool, and create short educational videos explaining a concept or a process. Use your voice to verbalise the information while you draw or present visuals. This practice reinforces your understanding and improves retention, all while preparing you to become the next educational influencer!
In a nutshell, Dual Coding is the ultimate learning hack that taps into the power of both words and visuals to enhance comprehension and memory. Embrace your creativity, unleash your inner artist, and let the magic of Dual Coding transform your learning experience.
Source: Ashley Kaster (YouTube)