Research and statistics to give credibility to your work is excellent practice. But not when it’s poorly researched and based on… well not much!
This blog post DEBUNKS the statistic about 65% of people being visual learners. In other words, this isn’t true.
Reason for the updated intro? Because people are linking to this blog as if I’m saying it’s true. It means you aren’t reading my blog, and anyone that clicks the link in your article will see you haven’t and you’ll undermine your own credibility. Read more about some of those, below.
Let the debunking story begin
Whilst scanning Twitter this evening, I saw this interesting tweet and took a look at the article:
90% of the information we absorb is visual: https://t.co/fVNLo9IkRs An epic guide for creating your own social media visuals pic.twitter.com/q8hsNjYnve
— Hootsuite 🦉 (@hootsuite) November 3, 2018
Author Joanna Lu writes in the article, “you’ve likely heard before that 65 percent of people are visual learners”. Yes I have, and I know that, as a sweeping statement, it’s untrue. Intrigued by this, and that it had a hyperlink, I thought I’d follow Joanna Lu’s research and see where she got that statement from.
I can trust a Forbes article, right?
The link goes to a Forbes article, Why Infographics Rule, buy TJ McCue. In the opening paragraph TJ McCue states the same statistic and says its from the Social Science Research Network. A quick Google (and following a link mentioned later on, which cites the same statistic and links direct to the SSRN) finds an article called Reaching the Visual Learner: Teaching Property Through Art.
So far there’s websites quoting other websites. What they are referring to is something in The Law Teacher by William C. Bradford. You can download the PDF and read it, largely about using paintings in teaching and Bradford’s findings with a small group he taught.
In the opening of the document you’ll read this:
Learning theorists have demonstrated that people vary in the manner in which they absorb, process, and recall what they are taught. Verbal learners, a group that constitutes about 30% of the general population, learn by hearing. They benefit from class lectures and from discussion of class materials in study groups or in oral presentations, but chafe at written assignments. Experiential learners—about 5% of the population—learn by doing and touching,and clinical work, role-playing exercises, and moot court are their best instructional modalities.
Visual learners—the remaining 65% of the population—need to see what they are learning, and while they have difficulty following oral lectures they perform well at written assignments and readily recall material they have read.
The trouble is, that William C. Bradford doesn’t cite any of his findings or the research he got it from. There’s no reference or quoted work here at all. And other authors are using this document to based their own work from! I’m astounded.
The SSRN website call this a “paper” which lends credibility to this poorly researched and untrue document.
Google that “65 percent of people are visual learners” stat!
More Googling on the 65% statistic, apart from lots of mentions of it with no backup, shows up one interesting article on Seyens.com, who claim that they “help researchers in academia and industry visually communicate ideas and results”. You can judge on how well they do that now.
In an article by Seyens editor Tea Romih, Humans are Visual Creatures, you’ll read this:
At least 65% of people are “visual learners”.
This estimation comes from a research study on engineering students by Dr. Richard Felder in the 1980s, which later became a foundation for a standardized test called the Index of Learning Styles (ILS).
Despite the lack of a link to the paper being referenced, I found it and read it. LEARNING AND TEACHING STYLES IN ENGINEERING EDUCATION by Richard Felder and Linda Silverman. In the paper, I couldn’t find anywhere it stated the 65% statistic or anything that would make me think that.
What’s more, this is part of what Richard Felder wrote as a pre-face on the paper in 2002:
A problem is that in recent years I have found reasons to make two significant changes in the model: dropping the inductive/deductive dimension, and changing the visual/auditory category to visual/verbal. (I will shortly explain both modifications.)
When I set up my web site, I deliberately left the 1988 paper out of it, preferring that readers consult more recent articles on the subject that better reflected my current thinking. Since the paper seems to have acquired a life of its own, however, I decided to add it to the web site with this preface included to explain the changes.
My favourite part is “preferring that readers consult more recent articles on the subject that better reflected my current thinking“.
Is that “65 percent of people are visual learners” finally debunked now?
How about any of those writers above, and many, many more besides, consult anything up to date with decent research on learning styles?
Perhaps those authors should instead consult my growing curation of articles and research that are debunking the learning style.
This blog post was based on one claim in that Hootsuite article. The rest of the sentence I quoted was “and 90 percent of the information we absorb is visual”. I think I’ll leave that one for another day…
January 2020 update
I’ve just seen this web advert for Visme, which just makes me sad that they are jumping on the bandwagon.
I’ve asked Visme where their info came from to see if there’s something I’ve missed, but so far not found out.
Hi @VismeApp any response on this? I'd like to follow the research on it. Thanks!
— Jo Cook (@LightbulbJo) February 11, 2020
May 2020 update – using this blog for evil!
This website is made with WordPress, and I get notified when people link to my posts, which is useful as some people are linking to this blog in order to use the stat in their article to keep promoting this misinformation!
“Instagram is all about visual content, so it’s no wonder this platform is gaining in popularity. Why? 65% of people are visual learners, so they perceive visual information better than texts” on this thetechworld article. The same quote is used on Neal Schaffer’s website – it looks like one website has republished the other.
They are linking to THIS post that is debunking the stat! It’s almost like the author never read this blog, and just thought it was a great stat to show.
On the innovolo website they write “Apparently 65% of people are visual learners, so it’s important to get some relevant visuals in there.”
No. They don’t. Read the article you’ve linked to!
A funny change…
I’ve noticed that the Neal Schaffer article doesn’t link to this page any more. However it still links to something else spouting the same stat:
This link now goes to a page on Seyens.com that then links to another article on imagethink.net (echo chamber, anyone, anyone…) which eventually links to Richard Felder’s legacy website – not even a specific piece of research. Does the name Richard Felder ring a bell? That’s right, I referenced him earlier on saying his own research was out of date, which people seem to keep quoting.
Superb piece of work Jo. Surely anyone writing the sentence “Experiential learners—about 5% of the population—learn by doing and touching……..’ would read that and think “Hmm, there is something wrong there.”
Feel free to point learning styles fans to Coffield, et al, and Pashler, et al. And, of course, “Millennials, Goldfish & Other Training Misconceptions”, where I debunk this and 14 other myths (amongst other things). Good stuff!
Thanks for writing this. As a writer, I am getting highly frustrated at being led in circles by these nonsensical statistics online, which anyone can debunk in two minutes (in the case of the “paper” you mention: 65 percent of what population? The study? The country the “researcher” is located in? The planet?)
Oh that is beautiful… Wish I’d seen this when I wrote my PhD dissertation! Thanks!
I’m sorry too! I shall recommend this to all PHD students everywhere 😀
A fantastic post – thanks for your research on this. I had just stumbled across Bradford’s paper on SSRN (written in 2011 but published in 2004!) when alarm bells started ringing and I did some more digging. Thanks!
Hi Jo, thanks for your post.
I did some research on these “65% visual learners” stats, as I’m writing a book on content marketing – and I did’nt find a reliable source either. What I found instead, was a publication on sciencedirect.com called “The Relationship between Learning Styles and the Social Network Use of Tertiary Level Students”, mentioning: “the majority (82.8%) was visual learners” …. a little more than 65%, but only some students and not the whole population …. I think I’m gonna leave those statistics out of my book 🙂
Can you give any good online articles, studies, etc., for recent statistics on learning styles? I am presenting on How to Use Power Point this Saturday and wanting to get some useful but reliable numbers on visual v. auditory, tactile learning.
Hi there, learning styles haven’t been proven to be useful, you can find out more here:
You would be better looking up dual coding theory and picture superiority affect. Good luck!
Might be helpful …
Hi, thanks for this, always looking for more details on this topic. That paper does indeed state the same thing about visual learners, and attributed it to Zopf et al. I’ve downloaded their paper (https://fdocuments.in/document/attentional-modulation-of-the-human-somatosensory-evoked-potential-in-a-trial-by-trial.html) but there’s nothing that specifically says “65% of people are visual learners”. And “learner” isn’t even a word in the text at all. Admittedly I haven’t read all 19 pages of the academic text, but searching for something related to this hasn’t shown anything up. This is part of the problem with this stat, I often find that people are linking to links to links to links which often go back to very poor research or citation. If you have seen it in the paper that I’ve missed please point me to a page number. Thanks!
Thanks, Jo. I “knew” the old statistic, but was trying to find updated research. Read the original article which stated, not 65%, but “33% visual, 26% auditory, 14% kinesthetic, 12% visual and auditory styles equally, 6% visual and kinesthetic, 4% auditory and kinesthetic and 5% all three styles.” However, this was only 230 medical students, which in and of itself, might not reflect the general population. I’ll check your other links🙏🏼. Martha
Hello! I’m currently working on a study about students’ learning styles. I hope you can provide me a link of the study that mentioned these values. Thank you very much!
Hi, this is a great resource I have for you on learning styles: https://www.scoop.it/topic/learning-styles-by-jo-cook
I was about to use the 65% statistics when I cam across this article. As a former academic now working as a marketing copywriter, I applaud you! I’m constantly frustrated by articles that provide no sources for their claims. There’s enough misinformation out there already, folks! Do your research and serve your readers.
Hurrah, one article saved! I find it amusing, as you’ll have seen in the blog, the number of articles that link to this one as a reference for the statistic, when I’m clearly opposing it! You are obviously doing some great research for your marketing 😀
This is awesome! So if breaking out learning by “style” does not work, what does?