• Ian Gibbs

Key Learning Techniques #3: Dual Coding


How good are you at drawing?


Does your attempt at a horse look like… well, a horse? Or does it look more like a pig having a bad day?


Whatever your answer, it doesn’t stop you from using today’s learning technique: Dual Coding.


Dual Coding, as it’s name suggests, is when we process information in two ways.


The most common example of this is verbal and visual, or to be more specific, written text and pictures.


There’s nothing new about a paragraph about penguins being accompanied by a picture of one.


So far, so predictable.


The point where dual coding tends to be found absent is in our own note-taking.


Look through your own notes made from your last seminar, workshop or meeting. How many ‘illustrations’ did you draw compared to how much you wrote?


If you’re like most people, ‘none’ is the most likely answer.


This is a pity, because our brain is better at dealing with images than it is dealing with abstract words. By this, I mean your brain is much better at remembering a picture of an elephant than the word ‘elephant’.


“Ok”, you might say “that’s all very well, but firstly, my notes don’t feature many elephants, horses or pigs and secondly, even if they did, I can’t draw them.”


To respond to the second point first, you don’t need to be able to draw to be able to dual code. Most people aren’t budding Michelangelos, but they are able to doodle.


When it comes to dual coding, circles, arrows and stick-people are within most peoples artistic reach. The trick is to figure out how to creatively use them to take incoming data (which is in word-form) and translate it into doodles.

It takes effort.


What you’re probably forgetting is that’s the whole point! Learning doesn’t happen when your brain is on autopilot. It happens when your brain is creating new neural networks, which takes effort.


Simply writing down incoming words is essentially a ‘copy & paste’ activity. It requires virtually no mental heavy lifting whatsoever. But when you convert incoming verbal data into shapes and forms, your little grey cells start to stretch.


And that’s exactly what you want if you want to learn stuff better.


So, for example, if you’re at a meeting with 5 items on the agenda, draw a line down the middle of the page. On one side, write your notes as usual, on the other, draw 5 large boxes and fill them in with doodles that correspond to each point as it comes up.


If you do this, then when asked afterwards what was covered in the meeting, you should find it easier to remember the doodles than the text.

Research has already shown that you’re more like to recall notes written by hand than typed. Dual coding takes that advantage even further. And beside, doodling with a keyboard just doesn’t work.


So whether it’s to support new vocabulary, to remember the points of a business meeting or to better understand a new process, the next time you’re taking notes, dual code them into text and doodle format, and you’ll be using a tried and tested technique that will help you remember, understand and learn your content better.


See also:

KLT 1: The Ebbinghaus Method


KLT 2: The Feynman Technique