Nonlinguistic Learning Mode in Instructional Design

While various linguistic methods are used in many learning processes, the nonlinguistic and affective modes are often omitted as learning designers do not realize their importance. We have three learning processors and when any are denied or not reinforce, the learning process lengthens rather than shortens.



Mental Images

Mental images can increase nonlinguistic retention through the use of such techniques as metaphors, reflection, activities, short videos, images, or storytelling. To truly understand a subject matter we need to be creative with it in order to adapt it to our environment. It is through the power of mental images that we are able to change our mental representations of how things work to how we can make them work for us.

visualizationHave the learners practice the task in their minds (visualization)

Marzano (1998, p.102) reported an effect size of 1.13 (which indicates that achievement can be raised by 37 percentile points) by using techniques that enhance visual memory.






Semantic, Concept, or Mind Mapping

Learning can further be enhanced by encouraging the use of graphic representations when taking notes (connected nodes composed of lines, circles, & drawings).

Mind or concept map

Sample Mind Map (semantic mapping)

While normal note taking has an overall effect size of .99, indicating a percentile gain of 34 points, graphic representations produced a percentile gain in achievement of 39 points. One of the most effective of these techniques is semantic mapping (Toms-Bronowski, 1982) with an effect size of 1.48 (n=1), indicating a percentile gain of 43 points. With this technique, the learner represents the key ideas in a lesson as nodes (circles) with spokes depicting key details emanating from the node.

Concept mapping was developed by Professor Joseph D. Novak at Cornell University in the mid-sixties and based on the theories of David Ausubel. The reason it works better than normal note taking is that the inner node(s) represent the learner’s prior knowledge and then as the learner grasps new ideas or concepts, additional nodes are added to represent them. Thus the learner is able to graph new knowledge built on previous knowledge in a dynamic way rather than through a strictly linear method.

The difference between concept maps, mind maps, Semantic maps is that while concept maps may represent several different, but related concepts,mind maps normally represents one central concept. Thus a mind map may look more like a tree, while a concept map normally looks more as a network with a central node that spreads more or less evenly in all direction.

Semantic maps refer to the whole genre of note taking performed in a graphical manner, thus it includes both concept maps and mind maps.

Mental Imagery

Mental Imagery, sometimes referred to as visualizing, is quasi-perceptual experience, in that it resembles perceptual experience, but occurs in the absence of the appropriate external stimuli. It has long been used in sports, such as golf and tennis, but has recently been shown to be helpful in learning various mental and physical tasks. Mental Imagery builds upon learning experiences through the means of imagining one self to perfectly perform a set of steps or actions, which in turn builds organized set of propositions that are stored in the brain. These sets of propositions can then be used when one actually performs the task.

The Other Senses

Also, do not forget the other senses. VAK would tell us to let the learners play with a koosh ball, however, I believe this has more to do with personal satisfaction than with actual learning. What really needs to happen is to allow them to touch, move, listen and/or smell the subject mater if at all possible… sort of what Zen is built upon—become one with the subject.


Marzano, Robert J. (1998). A Theory-Based Meta-Analysis of Research on Instruction. Mid-continent Aurora, Colorado: Regional Educational Laboratory. Retrieved May 2, 2000 from

Plessinger, A. The Effects of Mental Imagery on Athletic Performance. Retrieved may 19, 2009 from

Toms-Bronowski, S. (1982). An investigation of the effectiveness of semantic mapping and semantic feature analysis with intermediate grade level children. Wisconsin Center for Education Research, The University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI.

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