Visualizing to Learn



One of the most productive learning techniques I have found is visualization. I first noticed its effectiveness when I was teaching scuba diving.

The students would spend 20 hours in an indoor pool learning the basics. After those 20 hours, they would begin their training outdoors in the ocean or a lake. One of the first exercises they would do involves going into 10 feet of water, removing the regulator from their mouth, and swimming to the surface. As the exercise began, I would be with the student to assist. Each student knew that they could comfortably swim underwater for 10 feet without air.

However, I would have to intervene 30% of the time because the student experienced a very uncomfortable and scary moment during the exercise. I didn’t know what to do. We tried different training techniques, but saw no improvement in the results.

Then one day, I was talking to a high school principal and asking for his thoughts. He recommended that I use his library and study how professional athletes practice and learn their skills. One of the first things I learned was their heavy reliance on visualization. They would all spend time visualizing themselves performing the skill successfully, going through each moment and movement in their mind.

So, I tried that with my students. Before the dive, we would sit down, and I would go over each step, movement, and hand signal for the exercise. Then, each student would repeat that back to me until they could easily tell me exactly what was going to happen. We were immediately 100% successful. We would spend more time in the pre-dive meeting, choreographing every move and signal that would happen during the dive. Once they knew the movements, they spent time visualizing themselves completing the task successfully.

The thing that I learned is that if you are learning a skill, find out what the correct steps are to perform that skill. Then, spend some time visualizing yourself following those steps. Practice success in your mind, and you will learn.


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