Visuals in textbook lessons can actually hamper learning, study finds

May 8, 2013 at 4:40 PM
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COLUMBUS, Ohio, May 8 (UPI) -- Adding attractive visuals to a textbook lesson to get children's interest can actually make it harder for them to learn, Ohio State University researchers say.

Researchers found 6- to 8-year-old children best learned how to read simple bar graphs when the graphs were plain and a single color, whereas children who were taught using graphs with images like shoes or flowers on the bars didn't learn the lesson as well and sometimes tried counting the images rather than relying on the relative height of the bars, a university release reported Wednesday.

"Graphs with pictures may be more visually appealing and engaging to children than those without pictures," study co-author Jennifer Kaminski said. "However, engagement in the task does not guarantee that children are focusing their attention on the information and procedures they need to learn. Instead, they may be focusing on superficial features."

The study findings could apply beyond learning bar graphs and mathematics, the researchers said.

"When designing instructional material, we need to consider children's developing ability to focus their attention and make sure that the material helps them focus on the right things," Kaminski said.

"Any unnecessary visual information may distract children from the very procedures we want them to learn."

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