How Does Imagination Help Learning?
The ‘Imagination Effect’The ‘Imagination Effect’ occurs when learners who imagine a procedure or concept perform better on a test than others who studied instead of imagining. For example in a 2014 study, different groups studied the same parts of respiratory anatomy. Learners who were asked to imagine parts from a text description and without a picture outperformed those who had studied the same parts with text accompanied by an image. We are not suggesting that imagining something is better or worse for learning than seeing an image. But there is some evidence that the effort of creating an image ‘in the mind’s eye’ can create a more lasting effect than simply looking at an image.
Fresh analogies invite imageryAs mentioned in the video, one study found that descriptive speech had created an image as an image seen, even though it existed only in the listeners imagination.
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‘In fact, we’re rather like ants’.
‘Left untreated, it can cause blood clots to form on the inner wall of the right atrium, like bats hanging from a cave roof’.
‘It’s clear in the first half, the away team gave us an absolute battering, and what we’ve done now is, it’s the 70th minute, they got a goal, and in the 70th minute we’ve now got an equaliser.We’ve got to hold our nerve now, see if we can get another goal and nick it
(‘nick it’ is an English idiom for stealing something).
In a moment like this, a trainer may encourage the group to sit quietly. They say, ‘Just think for a minute, how do you feel now? What are the first things that come to your mind? What are you worried about?’ This then leads into a discussion.‘You open your eyes. You’re lying on a pavement. It’s cold and hard. You have no memory of where you are or how you came to be there. Someone asks your name. You try to answer but just a noise comes from your mouth.With a sudden horror you realise you’ve been incontinent. Helplessly, you feel panic welling up. A hand rests on you. Its owner says, ‘Don’t worry, the ambulance is on its way’.
Images and imagery together can cause overloadIt is generally best not to show an image at the same time as using descriptive speech (unless you are describing what’s in the picture). When experienced trainers tell a story or ask learners to use their imagination, they switch the projector to ‘No show’ or press ‘B’ on the keyboard (with PowerPoint or Keynote ‘B’ makes the screen black). This is because the simultaneous presentation of images and stimulation of imagination can cause overload as they compete for limited working memory. The clash represented above may not occur if your displayed image matches the story. But, like the boy who said the ‘pictures were better on radio’, your learners imagination is unlimited compared to available stock photos or the results of a Google image search.
- Can you think of a scene or picture that you imagined during training, sometime in the past? What was it? What made it memorable?
- Do you stimulate the imagination of learners in your training? If so, share an example.
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